Heroin Overdose: Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Heroin Overdose

Heroin is one of the most common causes of drug overdoses. Overdose of heroin can result in serious health problems, including coma, respiratory depression, and even death.

Statistics show that the number of heroin overdoses has increased dramatically in recent years, making it even more important to be aware of the risks associated with this potentially dangerous drug. This article discusses heroin overdoses and their signs.
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What is Heroin?

Heroin is a powerful opioid drug that is derived from morphine, which is found naturally in opium poppy plants. It is often injected intravenously, smoked, or snorted. Many people who abuse prescription pain medicines turn to heroin because it is cheaper and more accessible than prescription opioids, and this practice can lead to an opioid overdose or worsen a substance abuse issue.

What is Heroin Overdose?

A heroin overdose occurs during dangerous drug abuse when an individual takes too much of the drug, resulting in sometimes fatal consequences. Heroin overdoses cause breathing problems, quickly leading to coma or death if the individual doesn’t receive emergency medical attention.
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Other signs of heroin overdose include confusion, dizziness, blue lips and fingernails, and a weak pulse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a heroin overdose can be reversed if the individual is given immediate medical care.

What are the Dangers of Heroin Overdose?

The risks of heroin overdose are very real and can cause serious health complications, including respiratory depression, coma, and death. Heroin overdoses can also lead to long-term effects such as permanent brain damage or organ failure.

In addition, many people who use heroin are at risk for developing addiction and other mental health issues due to the drug’s psychoactive effects.

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Overdose?

The symptoms of a heroin overdose vary depending on the amount taken, but some common signs include shallow breathing, loss of consciousness, and severe confusion. Other signs may include drowsiness, flushed skin, pinpoint pupils, slowed heart rate, and cold or clammy skin. It is essential to seek medical attention immediately if these symptoms are present.

Heroin Overdose Statistics 

Recent studies conducted by the CDC (Centers For Disease Control) found that cases of heroin overdose have been on the rise again after seeing a significant fall during the past few years. Let’s explore this in more detail.

Heroin Overdose Statistics by State 

he opioid crisis has hit many states particularly hard. For instance, the CDC reports that in Ohio alone there were more than 5,200 heroin overdose deaths in 2020. In California, overdose fatalities tripled between 2010 and 2020, reaching almost 8,900 deaths in 2020. Other states with high rates of heroin overdose include New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida, where overdose deaths have all nearly tripled since 2010.

Heroin Overdose Death Statistics

Heroin overdose death rate statistics show that the number of fatalities due to heroin overdose increases yearly. However, the transition from 2019 to 2020 has seen some positive changes, as the overall rate decreased by 7%, according to CDC. However, there were still 13,000 fatalities attributed to heroin abuse. This rate represents more than 4 deaths for every 100,000 people in the United States.
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Heroin Overdose Deaths by State

Heroin overdose deaths vary from state to state, but some have been hit particularly hard. In West Virginia and Pennsylvania, even though the overall rate went down, the death toll in these states is still more than 900 and 880 deaths, respectively. Other states with high rates of heroin overdose death include New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maryland.

What are the Treatments for Heroin Overdose?

If you or someone you know suffers from heroin addiction or experiences an overdose, it is vital to seek medical attention immediately. Addiction to prescription opioid painkillers can lead to heroin use. Some treatment options are:

  • Naloxone: An opioid antagonist medication, naloxone can quickly reverse the effects of an overdose and help restore normal breathing.
  • Oxygen therapy: Administering oxygen to someone experiencing a heroin overdose can help prevent tissue damage due to lack of oxygen.
  • IV fluids: Intravenous fluid replacement can help flush the body of drugs, reduce symptoms, and prevent dehydration.
  • Activated charcoal: This substance can help absorb toxins from the stomach to reduce symptoms and prevent further damage.
  • Supportive care: In some cases, medical professionals may need to provide supportive care, such as monitoring vital signs or administering medication.

If you’re seeking help for heroin addiction, Call us at 424-327-4614 today for a free consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs of a heroin overdose?

The signs of a heroin overdose can vary, but some common symptoms include shallow breathing, loss of consciousness, and severe confusion. Other signs may include drowsiness, flushed skin, pinpoint pupils, slowed heart rate, and cold or clammy skin.

What should I do if I see someone overdosing on heroin?

If you see someone overdosing on heroin, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately. Stay calm and call 911 or your local poison control center immediately.

  • Avoid touching the person if they have needles that could cause injury.
  • Remain with the person until help arrives and provide as much information as possible about the incident.
  • Administer naloxone if available, as this can reverse the effects of an overdose and help restore normal breathing.
  • Try to keep the person alert and awake by talking to them or gently shaking them if necessary.
  • Be prepared to perform CPR if needed.

How can I prevent a heroin overdose?

Several steps can be taken to help prevent a heroin overdose. The best prevention is not to use heroin or any other illicit drug. If you or someone you know is using, it is vital to be aware of the signs of an overdose and seek help immediately. Harm reduction approaches include using sterile needles and not mixing drugs with alcohol or other substances. Seek treatment for addiction if necessary.

What are the risks of using heroin?

Using heroin can be very dangerous. It carries a high risk of addiction, overdose, and death due to respiratory depression. Heroin can also cause adverse effects on the body, such as impaired cognitive function, an increased risk of infections, and collapsed veins. Additionally, it can increase the risk of long-term health complications such as liver or kidney damage.

How does heroin affect the brain?

Heroin affects the brain by stimulating opioid receptors, which triggers a surge of pleasure-causing chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. This can lead to an intense euphoric feeling, making users addicted after consistent use. Prolonged use of heroin has been linked to changes in the structure and functioning of some regions of the brain, which can lead to impaired cognitive functioning, memory loss, and changes in behavior. Additionally, heroin has been linked to depression and anxiety.

What are the long-term effects of a heroin overdose?

The long-term effects of a heroin overdose can vary depending on the severity and duration of the overdose. In some cases, a person may experience impaired cognitive functioning, memory loss, and changes in behavior. Organ damage from lack of oxygen during an overdose can cause a wide variety of health issues. Additionally, there may be an increased risk of liver or kidney damage due to prolonged use of heroin.

How many people die from heroin overdoses each year?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 47,000 deaths due to drug overdose in 2019. Of those, nearly 16,000 were heroin overdoses. This number represents an increase of nearly 4% from the previous year. These figures demonstrate the need for further education on the dangers of using heroin and other illicit drugs. Most drug overdoses happen with single-dose heroin, multiple doses, and heroin laced with other drugs.

How does the number of heroin overdoses compare to other drugs? 

The number of heroin overdoses is significantly higher than other drugs. According to the CDC, there were over 47,000 deaths due to drug overdose in 2019, of which 16,000 were related to heroin. In comparison, there were 12,200 overdose deaths from opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone combined.

This demonstrates the need for better education and prevention efforts regarding heroin use and opioid use disorder.

What are some of the risk factors for overdosing on heroin? 

Some risk factors for overdosing on heroin include using large doses, using other drugs such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, injecting the drug, and having a high tolerance due to prolonged use. Additionally, individuals who have been recently released from prison are at an increased risk due to the sudden availability of large amounts of the drug.

What happens when you overdose on heroin? 

When you overdose on heroin, your body cannot process the drug and its effects quickly enough, leading to a build-up of toxic substances in the bloodstream. This can cause severe respiratory depression, coma, and even death. It is essential to seek medical attention immediately if an overdose is suspected.

How much heroin does it take to overdose?

The amount of heroin needed to overdose can vary significantly between individuals. Factors such as tolerance, body weight, and the drug’s potency all influence how much it takes to overdose. It is crucial to be aware of the potential dangers of using heroin and to take proper precautions to avoid addiction and overdose.

Are you struggling with heroin addiction?

NuView Treatment Center can help. Our outpatient rehab services are tailored to your unique needs and offer the latest evidence-based methods. With our help, you can achieve lasting recovery and improve your quality of life.

Don’t let addiction control your life any longer. Call us today for a free and confidential consultation. We believe in you and will be there to support you every step of the way on your journey to recovery.

Call us at 424-327-4614 today for a free and confidential consultation and to learn more about our program and how we can help you achieve lasting recovery.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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