Opioid Overdose Risk Factors

Stay Safe. Know the risks. Carry Naloxone.

Risk factors

There are several factors that can increase a person’s risk of overdosing. They include:

  • Changes in tolerance from not using or using less. This happens after being in jail, detox, or following a period of abstinence.
  • Changes in quality or purity of heroin and fentanyl.
  • Mixing opioids with alcohol or benzodiazepines (benzos). Benzos include Klonopin, Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Librium, and others.
  • Mixing opioids with stimulants, such as: crack/cocaine, meth, speed, and others.
  • Having poor nutrition, a weak immune system, heart problems, or other health issues (i.e.HIV, Hepatitis C, unhealthy lungs from smoking or liver damage from drinking).
  • Surviving a past overdose.

Prevent a fatal overdose

There are many harm reduction strategies for preventing overdoses from occurring, and preventing overdoses from becoming fatal. The goal of these strategies is to keep individuals who use opioids alive:

  • Always carry naloxone (multiple doses if possible).
  • Whenever possible, use with someone else around.
    • Try to alternate using with those around you, so that one of you is still able to use naloxone if the other one overdoses.
    • If you have to use alone, call someone you trust before using, and ask them to either stay on the phone with you while you use, or call you in 10 minutes to see if you’re OK. If you don’t answer, have them call 911 with your location.
    • If you can’t call anyone, use in a semi-public location where someone will be able to find you if you overdose. Leave naloxone out and nearby, so that whoever finds you can use it on you.
  • Start low, and go slow.
    • Every time you buy a new bag, do a small tester shot. Only do more after waiting a few minutes, and seeing how your body reacts.
  • Avoid mixing opioids with other substances, such as alcohol and benzos.

Information on fentanyl

What is it?

Fentanyl is a strong synthetic opioid that is given intravenously in hospitals for anesthesia, rapid pain control, and sedation. It is also prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain, as a transdermal patch. Fentanyl is responsible for the surge in opioid-related deaths seen in MA since 2013, due to it being a potent and fast-acting drug.

Where has it been found?

Fentanyl is typically sold as is, or as heroin. Less often, it may be present in other drugs such as cocaine and pressed pills without the user’s knowledge.

What can I do about fentanyl?

If you use drugs, when you get a new supply, test them for fentanyl before using. Additionally, always use the harm reduction strategies outlined above to prevent a fatal overdose.