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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Nack

What is a drug overdose and what are the risk factors for it?

What is a drug overdose?

A drug overdose occurs when the body has toxic amounts of a substance or a combination of substances, and this can cause lasting damage to the body. Alcohol, drugs, and even prescription medication can be overdosed on, and this could be intentional or accidental. From 2002 to 2015 the number of drug overdoses in the United States more than doubled (Watkins, 2022). In 2020, there were 91,799 drug-involved overdose deaths in the United States according to the CDC. Sixty-nine percent of those cases occurred in males. The number of overdose deaths (91,799) increased by over 20,000 from the previous year. For comparison, in the year 2000 the death rate was under 20,000 people. The area that has seen the greatest increase in deaths is synthetic opioids, and it has risen above the rest since 2015. The primary synthetic opioid is fentanyl. Synthetic opioids have seen a 6-fold increase in deaths from 2015 to 2020. ("Overdose death rates," 2022).

What are overdose risk factors?

While using any substance comes with a risk of overdose, there are certain factors that can increase the likelihood of an overdose. Some examples are significant psychological dependance on the drug, overdose(s) in the past, using multiple substances at once, taking large amounts of a substance at once, quitting substance use treatment, slowly increasing the amount of a substance used over time, drug use via injection into the veins, not wanting to seek emergency help when it is needed, being released from prison recently, history of suicide attempts, beginning drug use after a period of abstinence, and low levels of physical tolerance. Having low tolerance is dangerous because the body cannot handle excess amounts of a substance as well. This can be dangerous for people who had previously built up a tolerance to a drug, had a period of abstinence, and then have started using again. The body may lose its tolerance during the period of abstinence, causing the previously non-lethal quantity of a substance to cause overdose (Watkins, 2022).


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