The opioid crisis is all too real nowadays. It seems that deaths associated with overdoses have, unfortunately, become more prevalent in recent years. Between January 2018 and March 2019, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec recorded 543 deaths possibly linked to intoxication of opioids or other drugs in Quebec.
Being aware of this dire situation and knowing how to handle it can help ensure that parties don't turn into catastrophes this summer, if you or your friends decide to use drugs.
First things first: What are opioids? Opioids are psychoactive substances, which occur naturally or are created in laboratories, that act on the areas of the brain in charge of pain management. Not only do they produce an analgesic effect, but they can also trigger euphoria. Some examples of opioids include oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone, fentanyl, codeine, and methadone. Beyond their medical use to relieve acute or chronic pain, opioids are sometimes consumed by individuals mainly for their euphoric effect.
Still, misusing opioids can have many harmful effects on your body. If used inappropriately, even opioids prescribed by a physician can engender serious health risks - not to mention buying heroin off the black market - the two main ones being addiction and overdose.
Another big issue is that black market drugs may contain opioids such as fentanyl or carfentanyl, two extremely powerful substances; even the tiniest amount can cause a potentially fatal overdose. When taking drugs, there’s never a guarantee of knowing exactly what contents they’re composed of. And since there's no way of knowing a product's actual ingredients and concentration, the risk of overdosing is even higher.
If ever you still decide to take drugs, or you're around people under the influence, here's a list of ways to prevent an overdose.
1. Avoid using drugs when alone
If you're on your own, no one will be around to help you if ever things go wrong. It's never a good idea to consume drugs when you're alone.
2. Avoid all of your friends using drugs at the same time
Having at least one sober, responsible friend at a party means having someone who can react quickly in case of emergency. It's kind of like having a designated driver when we're talking about alcohol: you need a person who can make sound decisions.
But if all your friends do decide to use at a party, it's better to alternate doses and not have everyone consume drugs at the same time. That way, at least one person will be able to check for any bad drug reactions and quickly intervene if necessary.
3. Space out and reduce your doses
Since the effects of drugs can be powerful, it's especially dangerous to take too much, too fast. It's safer to reduce your doses and wait until you feel the effects before using again.
4. Avoid isolation when feeling sick or intoxicated at a party
No matter how embarrassed or ashamed you may feel, if you're feeling intoxicated or just not feeling well after consuming drugs, avoid being alone at all costs. Someone needs to be nearby in order to call 9-1-1 at any moment's notice, which could save a life.
5. Know how to recognize the signs of an overdose
If your friend becomes susceptible to overdosing while taking drugs, you should be able to recognize the signs to react as quickly as possible. Know that, if a person is overdosing, they won't react to sound or pain, and they'll have laboured or snore-like breathing, or won't be breathing at all.
If you think you're witnessing an overdose, you should call 9-1-1 immediately and administer a dose of naloxone, if you have some on hand.
6. Have naloxone on hand
Naloxone is a safe antidote that can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose. It's extremely useful during emergencies, and administering it can save lives. For those over 14 years old, naloxone is free and available in all pharmacies across Quebec and in some health care settings and community organizations. If naloxone isn't in stock, pharmacies can typically order and receive it 24-48 hours later.