Overdose Prevention and Response

Most heroin users have experienced overdose themselves or through friends. Overdoses do not always result in death. BHN can help you manage heroin or other opioid overdoses so that you and your friends have a better chance of surviving and experiencing fewer health effects.

In Australia, more than 1000 people die from opioid overdoses each year. Overdoses can almost always be prevented or managed with Naloxone (Narcan).

How can we help?

  • Information on the main causes of overdose
  • Education on recognising overdose
  • Overdose response training
  • A free kit including naloxone and everything you need to keep yourself and your loved ones alive

What causes people to overdose?

People who overdose from opioids typically have at least one risk factor, but long-term users can also overdose. Often people do not realise they have risk factors, such as other serious health problems.

Overdoses can be prevented in most cases. Reasons for their occurrence are:

  • The use of more than one drug at a time (polydrug drug use)
  • Low tolerance: A person’s drug use has recently been reduced or stopped while in detox, rehab, hospital or prison.
  • Unsafe situations: Overdose is much more likely if you use alone or if you use in public and take risks you wouldn’t usually take, such as using more than you would normally use

What are the signs of someone overdosing?

Overdoses of opioids can occur quickly or slowly. The following are some common signs to look for:

  • Not responding – if you try to wake a person but they don’t respond, they might be overdosing
  • No breathing or slow breathing – to get enough oxygen, you should breathe deeply at least six times per minute
  • Blue/grey lips or fingertips – people with white skin who are deficient in oxygen may have pale lips and blue fingertips. A person with darker skin may have greyish skin and pale or gray lips and fingertips
  • Snoring or gurgling sounds – people who have trouble breathing may make snoring or gurgling sounds, and their breath is likely to be shallow and rapid

Helping someone who is overdosing on heroin

Overdosing can be helped in a few ways, and any help will be better than none.

  • Rub their chest firmly or pinch their earlobes to try and wake them up
  • Call 000 if they don’t wake up
  • Stay with them if they wake up
  • If they aren’t breathing for at least 6 seconds, help is needed
  • Give them rescue breaths if they don’t breathe
  • Give them naloxone if you have it
  • CPR should be started if there is no heartbeat

Facts about overdose

  • Overdoses that result in death are not the only problem – Many people survive overdoses with the assistance of friends or paramedics, but overdose can still cause health problems, such as memory loss and brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.
  • Fear of using Naloxone (Narcan) – Naloxone is a very safe medication. Small amounts can be given to a person so that they wake slowly without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. When someone is waking up, you can give them oxygen with rescue breaths while you administer Naloxone.
  • Overdose doesn’t only occur in new users – many people can overdose including those who have not been using consistently, have had a break from using, have been using more drugs or more of the drug, whose body is rundown, or who have other health problems. Overdoses are very common among older people as well as those recently released from detox, rehab, hospitals, or prisons.

Those at risk of overdose and those who may witness overdoses can receive training and resources from the Harm Reduction team. Families and friends of opioid users, residents and workers of areas with high rates of street-based injecting drug use, and people who work in services used by opioid users can be included.