Increase patient awareness about opioids and respiratory depression.
30% of surveyed patients who received opioids in the last 3 years didn't know they were taking opioids.1
All opioids can lead to respiratory depression. And prescription opioids, even when taken exactly as prescribed, are no exception. Yet, most patients are naïve about the unpredictable and serious risks of these medications. By educating patients on negative side effects of opioids, we can increase awareness and help lower the risk of respiratory failure.
Start the Right Conversation
Use these talking points to speak with your patients about the unpredictable side effects of prescription opioids and the risks of respiratory depression.
“The same drug that helps control your pain can also cause your breath to slow or even stop.”
Opioids, including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone can be effective at relieving unbearable pain. However, these medications can also cause your breath to slow or stop—a condition known as respiratory depression. This occurs when your body cannot properly process an opioid. If not caught early, it can lead to heart attack, brain damage, and death.
“Respiratory depression happens while you’re asleep.”
When you sleep, breathing is more relaxed and the body’s oxygen levels are slightly lower. Opioids work by attaching to receptors in the brain that block pain signals and calm the body, but they can block the receptors that signal your body to breathe. This can cause your breath to become shallow or even stop. It’s also why it can be difficult to spot the difference between an opioid emergency and peaceful sleeping.
“A lack of oxygen, even for 3-5 minutes, can lead to stroke, heart attack, and permanent brain damage, followed by death.”
Brain cells need continuous oxygen flow to function properly. Without it, they begin to die, and the body shuts down. This life-threatening condition is called brain hypoxia and it can cause irreversible damage, including cardiac arrest, brain damage, and death. That’s why early intervention is so important. Know how to spot respiratory depression and have someone you trust who can help in an emergency.
National Overdose Deaths Involving Any Opioid, Number Among All Ages, by Gender, 1999-2019
In the US, the number of people dying from overdose increased by 120% between 2010 and 2018.3
National Safety Council. Prescription opioid pain killer public opinion poll. October 2017.
Ontario Drug Policy Research Network. “Opioid Mortality Surveillance Report.” Public Health Ontario, 2019, p. 33, www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/O/2019/opioid-mortality-surveillance-report.pdf?la=en.
Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2020.