Opioid Overdose Crisis: Understanding the Problem, Prevention, and Treatment
Written by Li (Joanna) Tang, MSc, revised by Cenk Ozkan, MBA
Opioid overdose has been a growing public health crisis globally, claiming half a million lives each year, with over 70% of these deaths related to opioid use. In Canada, the situation is worse, with opioid overdose now considered a public health crisis. The problem has significantly worsened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising 96% in the first year of the pandemic compared to the previous year. In this article, we will discuss the opioid overdose crisis, including the causes, risk factors, symptoms, and available treatment options.
Causes and Risk Factors:
Opioids are narcotics that can interact with opioid receptors in the brain, causing pain relief and euphoria. They include medicines such as morphine, methadone, and fentanyl, which are usually used for pain relief. Opioid misuse can begin with a person’s desire to relieve physical pain, trauma, or suffering. From there, people may become addicted to these compounds. Accidental misuse of prescribed medication can also lead to opioid addiction.
Other Causes and Risk Factors:
- History of drug use
- Family history of addiction
- Co-occurring mental health disorders
- Exposure to stressful life events, such as trauma or violence
- Lack of social support
- Chronic pain
Other risk factors for opioid overdose include:
- Respiratory depression or slowed breathing
- Blue or purple lips and nails
- Cold, clammy skin
- Extreme drowsiness or inability to stay awake
- Small pupils
- Slow heartbeat or low blood pressure
- Unresponsiveness or loss of consciousness
- Pale, ashen, or greyish skin tone
Prevention and Treatment:
The best way to prevent opioid overdose is to increase awareness and understanding of opioid use and related harms. This includes educating people about the signs and symptoms of opioid overdose and providing information about naloxone. We can also lessen the stigma associated with drug use, which often prevents individuals from seeking treatment. By promoting access to mental health services and addiction treatment, we can provide those struggling with opioid addiction with the support they need to recover.
Naloxone is a safe and effective medication that can be administered by anyone, regardless of medical training. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking the effects of opioids and reversing respiratory depression. However, naloxone is not a cure for opioid addiction, and it does not treat the underlying problem. Rather, it is a lifesaving tool that can give individuals a second chance to seek treatment and overcome addiction.
Opioid overdose is a serious public health crisis that requires a multifaceted approach to prevention and treatment. By increasing public awareness, providing naloxone, and promoting access to mental health services and addiction treatment, we can help those struggling with opioid addiction get the help they need to recover. Artron manufactures products to test for drugs of abuse, and we are always willing to help and support local communities and local healthcare organizations by providing our drug rapid test solution.
1 WHO. 2021. Opioid Overdose.
2 Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses. Opioid- and Stimulant-related Harms in Canada. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; June 2022.
3 Canadian Red Cross. 2022.
4 American Medical Association. 2018. How to use naloxone.
5 Government of Canada. 2022. Naloxone.