How to Tell (And What to Do) If Someone Is Overdosing

Witnessing an overdose can be scary, especially if it’s someone you care about. The most important thing is to not panic. Take a deep breath and remember you have the power to help.

What Does an Opioid Overdose Look Like?

An opioid overdose can cause a range of symptoms depending on the person and the amount or type of drugs in their system. Some symptoms to watch out for include:

  1. Slowed or stopped breathing
  2. Blue or purple lips and fingernails
  3. Extreme sleepiness or inability to wake up
  4. Small pupils
  5. Slow or irregular heartbeat

What to Do During an Overdose Emergency

  1. Try to wake the person up. If they’re unresponsive, try to shake them awake or grind your knuckles into their breastbone for several seconds.
  2. Call 911. California’s Good Samaritan Law protects you and the person overdosing from being charged with drug possession. Tell the dispatcher exactly where you are and that someone’s breathing has stopped or that they are unresponsive.
  3. Administer naloxone if you have any. The overdosing person may need multiple doses of naloxone to reverse their overdose. Start with one dose and wait 2-3 minutes before trying again if symptoms don’t improve.
  4. Check for breathing. Make sure the person’s airway is clear and free of obstructions. If they’re breathing very slowly or not at all, perform rescue breathing.
  5. Stay with the overdosing person. If you have to leave them, even to call for help, move them into the Recovery Position to help keep them safe. If they wake up, explain what happened.

What Is Rescue Breathing?

Rescue Breathing is something you can do to help someone overdosing whose breathing is severely impaired. You’ve probably seen someone on TV do something like rescue breathing to save a person from drowning.

To Perform Rescue Breathing:

  1. Make sure the person is lying on their back.
  2. Tilt their chin upward to open their airway.
  3. Check to see if anything is in their mouth blocking their airway and do your best to remove it.
  4. Pinch their nose shut with one hand and give 2 even, regular-sized breaths into their mouth. Check to make sure their chest is rising as you give them breaths. If their chest isn’t rising, tilt their head back further and make sure you’re plugging their nose completely.
  5. Give one breath every 5 seconds until help arrives.

What Is the Recovery Position?

The Recovery Position is a body position that can keep an unresponsive person safe during an emergency. The Recovery Position can help prevent someone from choking on fluids like vomit while waiting for emergency services to arrive.

The Recovery Position is designed to be safe for most people. It is not recommended for someone with serious injuries, like a broken back.

To Put Someone in the Recovery Position:

  1. Kneel next to the person and gently roll them onto their side.
  2. Grab and bend their knee so it props them up slightly.
  3. Tilt the person’s head up slightly and rest it on their arm or hand so their airway is open and their face is not touching the floor.
  4. Stay with the person until help arrives. If they are cold to the touch or shivering, you can cover them with a coat or blanket.

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