Overdose Information and Prevention

The best way to prevent someone using drugs from overdosing is to seek professional help and get on the road to recovery. For more information about getting treatment for yourself or a friend or loved one, see Treatment Options.

Addiction is a crippling disease that affects how the brain works. Just because someone has committed to treatment, or has completed a treatment program, doesn’t mean they are not at risk for an overdose. Everyone should know the signs of an overdose, and be ready to call 911 and give Naloxone when an overdose happens.

What Are the Common Signs of an Overdose?

If you suspect someone is having an overdose, giving naloxone can be the difference between life and death. Watch for these signs of an overdose:

  • Awake, but unable to speak
  • Breathing is slow, shallow, or stopped
  • Body is limp
  • Heartbeat is slow, erratic, or stopped
  • Skin is pale or clammy
  • Choking or gurgling noise
  • Fingernails and lips turn blue or purple
  • Loss of consciousness or unresponsive

What Raises the Risk for an Overdose?

Mixing drugs and/or medications, particularly taking opioids with benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax) or alcohol, puts a person at an especially high risk for an overdose.

Most fatalities come when a person is using alone. If a person is using alone, nobody is there to help if something goes wrong.

People are also at high risk for overdose if they use for the first time in a while. Their tolerance is likely much lower than it was.

What Should I Do If I Think Someone is Overdosing?

Always call 9-1-1 immediately if you think you are witnessing an overdose. Good Samaritan laws protect the person who overdosed and the person who called 9-1-1 as long as they both remain at the scene. These laws mean you should not be punished for calling for help.

The most important thing is to try and keep the person breathing. No one dies from an opiate overdose if they continue to breathe. Rescue breathing is an important technique to learn and remember: lay the person on their back, tip chin to open airway. Make sure the mouth is clear. Pinch the nose and seal your mouth over their mouth. Give two quick breaths and then one breath every five seconds. Contact the American Heart Association to find a CPR class near you.

If you have access to naloxone, administer it right away when you suspect an overdose.

Even if you revive someone with naloxone, they may still be at risk. An overdose may last up to 2 hours, but naloxone only lasts approximately 30-90 minutes. It is important to always call 9-1-1 and get the person medical attention to make sure they are okay.

View the Overdose Education Checklist(PDF, 33KB).

Partnerships in Prevention and Treatment

The Allegheny Health Department (ACHD) has partnered with several county agencies to provide information, education, and resources to reduce and prevent overdoses in our community. This overdose prevention project provides training on overdose prevention and response to individuals at risk of drug overdose.

Key County Partners

Allegheny County Department of Human Services Behavioral Health Office

Community Care Behavioral Health

Health Choices Allegheny County Member Handbook

Prevention Point Pittsburgh is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing health empowerment services to injection drug users

PA Stop.org is the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance Campaign to stop opiate abuse. PA Stop is designed to educate Pennsylvanians about the risks of prescription painkiller and heroin use, the relationship between painkiller and heroin use, and what to do when you need help.

UPMC's re:solve Crisis Network provides round-the-clock, mental health crisis intervention and stabilization services for residents of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. Call re:solve at 1-888-7-YOU CAN (1-888-796-8226) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to speak with a trained counselor.