Overdose deaths have been on the rise since 2015. Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) accelerated the number of overdose deaths. According to the CDC, over 81,000 reported deaths in the United States in the 12 months ending May 2020, the highest reported overdoses in 12 months. But, what can you overdose on?
At first, most people go to illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine. Yet, we know the impact of prescription drugs on our society. But did you know you can also overdose on over-the-counter medications? Here’s the complete list of drugs you can overdose on.
What’s an Overdose?
Before we dive deep into the specifics, let’s understand the basics. A drug overdose, precisely, happens when someone takes too much of a substance. Now, this can be accidental or intentional.
The symptoms of overdose may vary depending on the person, substance, and amount taken. However, most people experience:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
- Trouble breathing
- Difficulty walking
- Aggression or violence
- Enlarged pupils
If you experience any of these symptoms or witness them in someone else, seek medical help immediately. The most obvious way to tell if these symptoms indicate overdose is to know you have taken drugs or the person you’re with was taking drugs. The faster you can get medical attention, the best chances someone has to reverse an overdose and prevent death.
Top 15 Drugs Cited in Overdose Deaths
The latest overdose death statistics from the CDC are for 2018. Based on this data, we can see that deaths from drug overdose rose by 54% between 2011 to 2016. After the concept of an “opioid epidemic” reached mainstream media, local, state, and federal governments started to increase their efforts to stop the epidemic.
Thanks to these concentrated efforts, in 2017, there was a decrease in overdose deaths by 4.6%. It’s important to note that the CDC, in particular, looks at deaths and non-fatal overdoses for opioids, including natural opioids, synthetic ones, and heroin.
According to the National Vital Statistics Report, these were the top 15 drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in 2016:
- Fentanyl (Opioid): 28.8% of deaths
- Heroin: 25.1% of deaths
- Cocaine: 17.8% of deaths
- Methamphetamine: 10.6% of deaths
- Alprazolam (Benzodiazepine): 9.8% of deaths
- Oxycodone (Opioid): 9.7% of deaths
- Morphine: 7.9% of deaths
- Methadone (Opioid): 5.5% of deaths
- Hydrocodone (Opioid): 5% of deaths
- Diazepam (Benzodiazepine): 3.2% of deaths
- Diphenhydramine (Antihistamine): 3.2% of deaths
- Clonazepam (Benzodiazepine): 2.6% of deaths
- Gabapentin: 2.4% of deaths
- Tramadol (Opioid): 2% of deaths
- Amphetamine (Stimulant): 1.9% of deaths
These numbers are similar to the CDC’s rank of the 10 most frequently cited drugs in overdose deaths: methadone, morphine, hydrocodone, alprazolam, diazepam, methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and oxycodone.
Surprising Over-the-Counter Drugs That You Can Overdose On
In addition to prescription medications and illicit drugs, some OTC drugs can be potentially dangerous. If we remember the definition of an overdose, it involves taking high doses of a substance. In the case of over-the-counter medication, this means exceeding the recommended daily dose in a short amount of time.
For example, over 458 people die each year due to acetaminophen overdose.
Essentially, any substance that someone takes in excess has the potential to cause overdose symptoms. Some may be more fatal than others, but the consequences are essentially the same.
What Causes It?
A drug overdose can be intentional misuse when someone mistakenly takes the incorrect medication or takes the wrong recommended dose of a medication. Accidental overdoses happen among children or young adults who take a drug they don’t need.
Another common cause of overdose is drug interactions. Some people dismiss the information about the medications they’re taking. For example, mixing alcohol with specific drugs can be a deadly cocktail, especially with particular combinations like benzos and alcohol, since central nervous system depressants.
As far as intentional overdoses, these are most common among adolescents and adults trying to harm themselves. This is a potential suicide attempt that might indicate that someone’s suffering from an underlying mental health condition. These may or may not have been diagnosed before, and certain medications can trigger suicidal behavior. It’s important to seek substance abuse and mental health services in these cases.
What to Do in an Emergency
If you know someone who you suspect is misusing drugs, learning basic first-aid care could mean the difference in an emergency. Consider taking a first-aid course in your local community so you can help someone who’s having an overdose if it ever happens.
If you suspect an overdose:
- Stay calm
- Call 911 and seek emergency medical care (most states have overdose laws that will offer legal protection for people who call for emergency help for overdoses involving illicit drugs)
- If the person is unconscious but breathing, place them on their side to prevent choking from vomit
- Make sure their airway remains open by tilting the head back and lifting the chin. Continue to check their breathing until help arrives
- Make sure to bring any pills, drugs, or substances to the hospital
Things NOT to do in the event of an overdose:
- Don’t attempt to make the person vomit
- DO NOT give the person anything else to eat or drink, not even water
- Please don’t leave the person alone as they might have seizures or other life-threatening side effects that require emergency medical services
Do You Need Help?
An overdose can sometimes be a cry for help. If you or a family member is struggling with drug abuse, consider speaking to an addiction specialist. Contact us today and talk to our admission specialists to understand our different rehab programs and how we can help you start your journey toward addiction recovery.
- Drug-Free Housing for Substance Abusers Leaving Detox Linked to Fewer Relapses – 02/27/2012. (2021). Retrieved 12 March 2021
- Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999–2018. (2020). [Ebook].