What is an overdose?
An overdose means having too much of a drug, or a combination of drugs, for your body to cope with. Overdoses can be different depending on the drugs involved.
Signs of an opioid overdose
Naloxone reverses an opioid overdose, allowing the person to start breathing again.
If given naloxone a person might feel like they’re hanging out, but it will only last for 30–90 minutes. This means once the naloxone wears off they could drop again from their initial shot. Using again before the naloxone has worn off will cause another overdose.
If you’ve taken a break from using drugs (because of detox, rehab, jail, using less), then your tolerance can drop quickly. If you’ve had a break, start slowly, and test a small amount first.
Some drugs have a long half-life. The half-life of a drug is the time it takes for the concentration of it in your body to be reduced by half. There are drugs you might have taken yesterday which could still cause you to drop if you have a hit today. Some benzos, including diazepam (Valium) have a long half-life.
If you have bought the drug on the street, then there is no way to know for certain what the half-life is and how long it will stay in your system. This becomes more dangerous when using other drugs because the first batch is still active in your system.
Most overdoses involve using more than one type of drug.
Mixing drugs is dangerous because different drugs act in different ways and combinations of drugs can have unpredictable effects on your body.
Mixing drugs doesn’t just mean taking them at the same time; you need to consider what else you have used that day.
Opioids is a broad term for a range of drugs that are derived from—or related to—the opium poppy. Commonly used opioids include oxycodone, morphine, codeine, heroin, fentanyl and methadone.
Opioids produce a calming effect by slowing down the messages to the central nervous system and brain, which also slows the rate of breathing.
Benzos, which some people take to help with sleeping or to reduce anxiety, also slow the central nervous system and produce a calming effect and in turn slow the breathing.
Mixing benzos with opioids is particularly risky—they contribute to the risk of opioid overdose and are present in most fatal cases.
Opioids, benzos and alcohol are all depressant drugs.
When you take too much, or in combination, depressants can reduce normal functions such as breathing and heart rate until they eventually stop, resulting in brain damage or death.
See Benzos page for more information.
There are Victorian agencies that can train individuals to identify and respond to opioid overdose using naloxone. These agencies can also assist anyone to access free naloxone as part of the Victorian Government Naloxone Subsidy Initiative.
Ask at the Needle and Syringe Program at the following places. Some NSPs offer additional services to reduce harms such as overdose.