For every 1 death due to opioid overdose, there are 2 hospital admissions and 4 emergency department visits.1
Early intervention is the best way to prevent respiratory depression from becoming fatal. If you take prescription opioids or you are caring for someone taking prescription opioids, these steps may help lower the risk of negative side effects.
Ask your doctor about monitoring solutions
It’s important to talk to your doctor about your existing health conditions, treatment goals, and available monitoring devices you can use while taking opioids. Start the conversation with your doctor.
Use opioids responsibly
An opioid emergency can happen at any time. But you are more likely to experience negative side effects if you are taking a higher dose or mixing with other sedating substances. Take opioids only as directed and do not increase your dose or mix with alcohol, sedatives, or illicit substances.
Talk to family and friends
Respiratory depression from opioids is most dangerous when you are alone or asleep. If you take opioids, reach out to a friend or loved one. Teach them how to spot opioid-induced respiratory depression and create a safety plan.
Help identify an overdose
Knowing the signs and symptoms of an opioid emergency could help save a life.
Signs and symptoms of opioid overdose include:
Shallow, slow, or stopped breathing
Slow heartbeat or low blood pressure
Choking or gurgling sounds
Nails and lips that have turned blue
Skin that feels cold and clammy
An unconscious or limp body
Confusion or unresponsiveness
Unsure if someone is experiencing an opioid emergency? Call 911 or seek emergency medical care.
Monitoring solutions could bring a sigh of relief
It is impossible to prevent the side effects of opioids. This is one of the reasons hospitals monitor your vital signs so closely. But what happens when you go home? Ask your doctor about monitoring devices, similar to what is used in the hospital, that you can use at home to alert you if your breathing slows or stops.2-5
Deaths-N.C. State Center for Health Statistics, Vital Statistics, 2017/Hospitalizations-North Carolina Healthcare Association, 2017/ED-NC DETECT, 2017/Misuse-NSDUH, 2015-2016 applied 2017 population data/Prescription-CSRS, 2017 Analysis by Injury Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit
Metzner J, Posner KL, Domino KB. The risk and safety of anesthesia at remote locations: the US closed claims analysis. Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2009 Aug;22(4):502-8. doi: 10.1097/ACO.0b013e32832dba50. PMID: 19506473.
McGrath S et al. Surveillance Monitoring Management for General Care Units: Strategy, Design, and Implementation. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety. 2016 Jul;42(7):293-302.
Gupta K, Nagappa M, Prasad A, et al. Risk factors for opioid-induced respiratory depression in surgical patients: a systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ Open 2018;8:e024086. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2018-024086
Bolden N, Posner KL, Domino KB, et al. Postoperative Critical Events Associated With Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Results From the Society of Anesthesia and Sleep Medicine Obstructive Sleep Apnea Registry. Anesth Analg. 2020;131(4):1032-1041