Overdose is always a risk whenever someone takes an illicit substance or abuses a prescription. Most incidents of drug overdoses are accidental, and many factors can contribute to a drug overdose.
Causes of Drug Overdose
Drugs differ in potency, or the strength of the effects they have on the body. Some drugs have such a mild effect that it is almost impossible to overdose on them. Others are so potent that even small quantities can trigger very serious consequences.
When people turn to illicit drugs, their risk of overdose vastly increases. Because there is no standardization or quality control during the manufacture of illicit drugs, people who use these drugs are effectively gambling on their potency. A person who takes the same quantity of heroin in terms of weight has no idea how much pure heroin is contained in that quantity. If the purity is significantly higher than what that person normally uses, overdose can occur.
Illegal drugs are often mixed with other substances that the user is completely unaware of. Fentanyl is a very powerful opioid that is often used to cut heroin. In some cases, heroin addicts are unknowingly buying pure fentanyl. Fentanyl was responsible for the deaths of 150 people in New Jersey between January and June of 2015.1
It is believed to have caused 55 deaths in Philadelphia in just five days at the beginning of last December.
A further common cause of overdose is when people resume taking a drug after a period of abstinence. Tolerance levels drop sharply when people stop taking drugs. If they then relapse and take a quantity similar to what they used before quitting, they can overdose.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey Statistics
Overdose fatalities have reached an all-time high. In Pennsylvania, deaths totaled 3,264 in 2015, an increase of 20.1 percent over the previous year and twice the national average. New Jersey deaths increased by 16.4 percent, totaling 1,454.2
One of the most tragic aspects of drug overdoses is that most incidents could have been avoided if the person had sought treatment for addiction or substance abuse. Addiction is an illness that responds well to rehabilitation treatment. People who feel they may have a problem should seek professional help rather than risk the ultimate tragedy.
Anybody can become addicted to drugs, and not just to illegal drugs. Prescription drugs used to treat chronic pain are highly addictive. Busy doctors have been somewhat lax in monitoring their patients’ usage of these drugs, with the result that more people abuse prescription drugs than illicit drugs.
People who are prescribed pain-relieving drugs should ensure they stick rigidly to the regime specified in the prescription. They should be wary of steadily increasing dosages and discuss alternative pain relief treatment with their doctors.