Heroin Overdose: Signs and Symptoms

If friends or family members overdosed on heroin, would you know what to do? If someone you know has an opioid use disorder, it is possible you could be confronted with this type of medical emergency. A heroin overdose is a life-threatening situation. Medical help is needed, and prompt action can save lives. You must call 911 if you suspect an overdose has occurred. First responders have the medical training to deal with heroin intoxication and can quickly get a victim of heroin poisoning to the emergency room.

Learning about the warning signs of an overdose can help you to respond quickly if one happens. It’s also useful to understand the risks that contribute to a heroin overdose and what treatment exists to help people to overcome substance abuse. This blog post covers these topics.

What Is Heroin?

What Is Heroin?

Heroin, made from morphine, is an opioid. It is manufactured from the seed pods of the opium poppy plant. Opium poppies are grown in Mexico, Columbia, and Southwest and Southeast Asia. Heroin is typically a white or brown powder or sometimes comes in a black, sticky form called black tar heroin. In the body, heroin is metabolized into morphine that binds to opioid receptors in the nervous system, creating a rush of the feel-good organic chemical dopamine. An overdose occurs when morphine concentrations in the blood are too high.

Role of Prescription Opioids

If you are aware that a loved one is misusing prescription medicine, you may need to be vigilant about heroin. Research, shared on the drug abuse website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows that 80% of heroin users developed their addiction while taking prescription opioids. Often, opioid addiction develops with the drug abuse of legally dispensed medicine, but the person then moves on to heroin and other illicit drugs. The cheaper street price and higher strength of heroin enable people with opioid dependence to maintain their drug habit.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that prescription misuse is a significant problem among teenagers. Parents and guardians must ensure that opioids, stimulants, and depressants are safely stored in the home.

Can You Overdose on Heroin?

The simple answer to this question is yes! The drug abuse website at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 19% of opioid overdose deaths in 2020 involved the use of heroin.

There is no safe quantity of heroin that a person can take. Any dose can have potentially lethal consequences. However, the greater the quantity of heroin used, the higher the chances are that a heroin overdose will occur. The actual quantity that will kill an individual depends upon a number of factors.

  • Long-term abuse can lead to an addicted person developing a higher tolerance for heroin. So a dose that gets one user high might cause the death of another user with a lower tolerance.
  • The rate at which individuals process and metabolize heroin varies, even if they are of the same height and weight, so it is impossible to gauge what dose might be safe by reference to another person’s use.
  • The strength of drugs bought on the street varies, so a quantity previously used without causing an opioid overdose might be deadly the next time.

There are genetic factors and other variables that affect overdose death rates too. A person whose family members have an addiction to heroin or another illicit drug is more likely to develop an opioid or other substance abuse problem. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that genetics account for half the risk factor of heroin addiction.

Is an Opioid Overdose Fatal?

Without treatment, many heroin overdoses result in deaths. Prompt treatment with Naloxone by first responders can rapidly reverse a heroin overdose and save lives. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that attaches to opioid receptors, reversing and blocking the effects of other opioids. Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped. Naloxone is administered as a nasal spray or injected. Systems used by first responders deliver a set dose of naloxone. If you know someone involved in heroin use, make sure that they know about the importance of getting Naloxone treatment

There has been some good news from the CDC in recent years. Overall, heroin-involved overdose deaths fell by nearly 7% from 2019 to 2020. While that is an encouraging sign, we should reflect that despite this, the number of heroin-involved overdose deaths was nearly seven times higher in 2020 than in 1999. Nearly 20% of all opioid deaths involved heroin

Other Health Risks of Heroin Abuse.

Other Health Risks of Heroin Abuse

People who use heroin administer the drug either by smoking, injecting, or snorting it. All these methods are illegal, dangerous, and can potentially lead to an overdose death. Smoking heroin damages the lips, mouth, and lungs. Injecting heroin directly into the bloodstream carries the highest risk of causing an overdose. Intravenous drug use can cause a blood infection, particularly if a dirty needle is shared between users. Untreated injuries and wounds caused by needle marks can result in bacterial and viral infections that can lead to limb amputation.

Frequently, heroin abuse begins with a user choosing to smoke or snort the drug, but as injecting causes a swifter onset of the euphoric, contented feelings associated with opioid abuse, a user will progress towards intravenous administration as the amount of heroin needed to get high must be increased steadily.

Warning Signs of Heroin Overdose

The most notable sign that a heroin user has overdosed is if they become unresponsive. Someone experiencing heroin intoxication may appear to be sleeping, not waking even if you shake them. Or, they could seem to be awake but fail to respond when you speak with them.

Extreme drowsiness can be a sign of opioid overdose, particularly if the drug is combined with another opioid like fentanyl. The person may fall asleep in the middle of a sentence or have trouble keeping their head upright. Using heroin alongside other drugs or alcohol is extremely dangerous and increases the danger of overdose.

A heroin overdose also causes slow, shallow breathing. Shallow breathing, sometimes known as thoracic or chest breathing, allows only minimal intake of breath into the lungs. This is because a person experiencing heroin overdose is using their intercostal muscles to draw in breath rather than their diaphragm.

Consequently, the most common symptoms of heroin overdose are pale skin, a blue tint to the fingers and lips, and low respiratory rate or gasping breath. These signs occur because heroin can slow a person’s heart rate and breathing in a life-threatening way.

A person experiencing an opioid overdose might also exhibit an altered mental or emotional state. They may have problems articulating, talk nonsense, slur their words, become unsteady on their feet, or fall. They could also display signs of anger when questioned.

Other signs that a person is suffering from a heroin overdose are fits, seizures, hallucinations, and periods of delirium. Further indicators that a heroin overdose is causing a medical emergency are constricted pinpoint pupils, nausea, vomiting, discoloration of the tongue, weak pulse, and low blood pressure.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Spreading awareness of the importance of summoning medical help is vital for reducing overdose death rates. Another important action is ensuring that loved ones know about the treatment support services that exist for people who abuse alcohol or drugs such as heroin. A life free from heroin and other substance abuse is possible for you or someone you love.

Detox for Heroin

Heroin addiction treatment begins with detoxification. When a person receives help from a medical facility, trained staff can ensure that they receive the right treatment to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. Heroin withdrawal can be unpleasant, and symptoms may include:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Nausea and stomach cramps
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Cravings

Therapy for Heroin Addiction

After detox, it is important that the person receives support to help them to understand the root causes of their addiction and their triggers for using. Therapy can take many forms and a person could attend individual one-to-one sessions, group therapy, and activity-based therapy such as art therapy.

Treatment at NP Addiction Clinic

At NPAC we provide compassionate and effective treatment programs for heroin addiction at our safe and comfortable Florida center. Our expert team is committed to helping each and every person during their journey to recovery. Overcoming addiction means supporting a person to rebuild their self-image and working with them to lay the foundations of a healthier, happier, sober life.

Experienced staff monitor the client’s health and prescribe medications that help the body deal with cravings during the detox process. We ensure that a client’s detox is as easy as possible, so they are ready to engage with the rest of their recovery program.

Addiction treatment also involves a client discovering the root cause of their heroin use and when and why it began. At our center, we provide expert therapy to assist a person with addiction in their personal search for inner understanding. Services available at NP Addiction Clinic include:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Art, music, and recreational therapy
  • Support groups

We also provide specialized care for people who have co-occurring mental health disorders alongside their substance use disorders. Please explore our website to see the full range of treatments on offer.

If you or someone you love needs our support to overcome heroin addiction, contact us today. We are ready to offer the help and support needed to build a new life free from addiction.

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To find out more contact our team

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Samantha Kelly​

Director of National Business Development & Admissions Coordinator

I am a dedicated and passionate professional with extensive experience in business development Admissions and marketing. I have an incredible passion for showing others that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel if someone truly wants it.
Being in recovery myself I understand the struggles of addiction and alcoholism. I Started this Career path in 2009. With multiple years of experience, I bring a multi-faceted approach and am always seeking new ways to make a difference in the lives of those I work with.

Kim L. Buckner

Facilitator

As a Substance Abuse Motivational Speaker, Pastor, Peer Advocate, and Facilitator. Kim helps clients avoid relapse by understanding their triggers. Those people, places and things that can cause craving, as well as internal triggers like feelings, thoughts, or emotions. Kim also clients with identifying and building healthy relationships now that they’re clean and sober.

Kim’s background includes extensive experience as a motivational speaker and work in faith-based organizations helping youth and adults alike. He says he is motivated by giving back to the community, understanding, and not judging who she comes into contact with. Kim’s favorite quote is by Dr. Raymond Johnson: “The respect given to others rebounds to the giver to deny the scared in the Other is to deny it in oneself.”

Caty Burns

Clinician

Caty graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minors in Counseling and History. Throughout her undergrad, she worked at the local CASA program, supporting volunteers advocating for children who had experienced abuse and neglect. Caty worked for seven years at a community mental health center (CMHC), partnering with children, adults, and families.

During those seven years, she taught life and coping skills as well as behavior management, provided case management and peer recovery services, and facilitated treatment teams that included the client, family, providers, and community members. I have also worked at an IOP providing group therapy services. She is currently working towards my Master of Social Work.

In her free time, Caty enjoys reading, especially historical fiction, spending time outdoors and having movie nights with her family. Disney World is her happy place, and she dreams of living among the elephants.

Madison Knowles

Mental Health Therapist

My name is Madison Knowles, I am a Mental health therapist at NPAC. I am a single-mother of two and I have a daughter who is globally delayed and has been diagnosed with autism. I have been in this industry since I was 16 years old, as I was fascinated with human behavior. I obtained my masters in applied behavioral analysis and started off working with people with disabilities. I then found my love for counseling when I worked with juveniles who had mental health and substance use issues. I then decided to go back for my mental health therapy license after that and working in a forensic treatment center. I went on to obtain my therapy credentials and since 2017, I have also been working on my PhD in forensic psychology in which I am currently working on my dissertation. I am inspired by change and how resilient people can be. My favorite inspirational quote is “Some will, Some won’t, So what, NEXT!!!” This quote has inspired me to try, try, and try again no matter how hard life gets, someone will give you a chance eventually. As a therapist at NPAC, I have been given the opportunity to work with diverse populations such as in substance use and mental health and I am known for my work with people on the schizophrenic spectrum as well as with other clients with other severe conditions including personality disorders.

Megan Carmona, LMHC

Lead Therapist

Our Lead Therapist, Megan, is a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in working with adults who struggle with addiction, anxiety, depression, and trauma. As Lead Therapist, she provides individual, family, and group therapy sessions to our clients.  Megan says “I am very passionate about therapy, especially about supporting my clients in exploring their strengths and identity. My goal is to provide individuals with the tools that can help them achieve independence in coping with their challenges and facilitating personal development.” In her free time, Megan enjoys watching docu-series and playing video games with her family. Her dream is to own acres of land so she can care for vulnerable animals, especially old dogs, cats, and horses. 

Kristen Bensley

Primary Clinician

As Primary Clinician, Kristen works with all aspects of our clinical team, from case management to primary therapy.  She has broad experience working in the mental health field. Prior to joining our team at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic, Kristen was part of the team awarded the Evernorth Behavioral Health Center of Excellence Designation by Cigna. She says her motivation is to help people rediscover who they are and become excited about the future and all the possibilities life offers. Kristen’s favorite quote is: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Ronn Daigle, MSW

Therapist, Utilization Review Clinician

Ronn Daigle services as a Therapist and Utilization Review Clinician at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has been working in the field of substance use disorder treatment since 2011, with experience in all facility-based levels of care. Ronn earned, both an Associate of Arts in Psychology (2013) and Bachelor of Science in Human Services, with an Addiction Studies Concentration (2015) from Indian River State College. 

Ronn additionally earned a Master of Social Work degree in 2021 and is a current Registered Clinical Social Work Intern working toward licensure (LCSW). He describes himself as detail oriented, and solution focused.

Ronn says: “There is nothing more fulfilling than working with someone who doesn’t believe in himself or herself, and being there in the moment with them when the belief begins. We work with individuals who come to us at a point and time in their respective lives where they do not believe that change for others is possible; let alone for themselves…throughout the process they eventually come to a point where they realize that change is not only possible, but achievable.”

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI

Assistant Clinical Director

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI is the Assistant Clinical Director at Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic who specializes in the treatment of LGBTQ, addiction, as well as mental health disorders ranging from depression and anxiety, to Bipolar Disorder, trauma, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, and eating disorders. Erika utilizes a number of modalities including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Mindfulness amongst others. Erika has been in practice for close to a decade and has earned her license in Mental Health Counseling, as well as being a Master’s Certified Addiction Professional. Erika has worked with many individuals including couples counseling and family therapy, and is fluent in Spanish.
 
Throughout my years of practice, one of the things I enjoy helping people find is inner peace. Whether you are in the deepest parts of depression, overrun by your anxiety, controlled by your addiction, or there are certain issues in your life that are negatively impacting your ability to function, and have a happy, healthy life, maybe now is the time to talk about it. I am a big believer in empowerment, working hard in therapy, and utilizing different techniques to help you regain that inner peace that may have been lost along the way. I want to work with you as a team because with two people, absolutely everything is possible. I want to be there as a therapist, to help build you up, support you, but also help you be honest with yourself and accountable. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, my biggest goal for you is going to be simple….for you to no longer need my services. Why? Because if you no longer need my services, it means that you have regained your peace, you have regained your strength, you have regained your confidence. It means that you now have the tools to address any issues that try to derail you, and best of all, you will have the insight to overcome and thrive. So let’s begin this journey together, and get you to the place you want to be, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and in your sobriety.

Aurelio Ayuso, MSW, LCSW, CAP, ICADC

Clinical Director

Aurelio has worked with those that suffer from the disease of addiction in adults and juveniles alike for over 10 years, beginning in the United States Navy where he proudly served for 20 years, working with those that were succumbed by addiction due to trauma and continuing his passion for helping those in need locally in Central Florida.

He specializes in both Addictions and Trauma, he has worked first as a therapist then as the clinical supervisor to both the Juvenile and Adult Drug Court programs in Brevard County. Aurelio has been instrumental in developing substance abuse treatment programs directly tailored to help those that also suffer from complex trauma due to their addiction. He has been recognized by several organizations for his forward thinking and ability to tailor treatment to individuals in the most restrictive environments.

Mr. Ayuso received his Graduate Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as Certified Addictions Professional in the State of Florida, and Internationally Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor. Aurelio specializes in the treatment of Addiction, Trauma, and Abandonment using strength based strategies deeply rooted in Solution Focused, and Mindfulness Therapies. At the Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic he passionately develops holistic curriculums that foster the belief that through addressing the mind, body, and spirit together, the Disease of Addiction can be addressed successfully.

Robert Lehmann, MHSA

Chief Operating Officer

Bob Lehmann is the Chief Operating Officer at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration with a concentration in Mental Health Administration and over twenty-five years of experience as a senior executive at addiction and mental health treatment facilities.

One of the reasons for his commitment to excellence in addiction treatment was his experience related to family members who suffered from the disease of addiction. Bob has been actively involved in community organizations throughout his career. Recently he was one of the founders of the Florida Addiction Treatment Coalition (FATC) and is its present Vice President. FATC was designed to bring together treatment executives in Florida to advocate on behalf of treatment facilities and the clients they serve adhering to a foundation of integrity and service excellence.

Jose R. Toledo, M.D.

Medical Director

A well-rounded and accomplished individual, Jose R. Toledo, M.D., is the Medical Director of Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a neurologist with 25 years of experience and has been in private practice since 1991 on the Treasure Coast of Florida. He completed his neurology training at the State University of New York and his Fellowship training at the University of Pittsburgh in Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology.

He also completed 24 months of acute inpatient psychiatry at the Western Missouri Mental Health Center, University of Missouri in Kansas City. In 2008, Dr. Toledo participated in and was certified in the continuing medical education activity entitled “Buprenorphine and Office-Based Treatment of Opioid Dependence” from The Medical University of South Carolina during which began his quest to found and head Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a brain specialist with particular competence in addiction medicine and out-patient detoxification treatment and integrates the fields seamlessly. He is certified to prescribe Buprenorphine (Suboxone). He incorporates his background in neurology into the addiction field. Dr. Toledo is member/fellow of The American Medical Association, The Florida Medical Association and The American Society of Addiction Medicine