Heroin Overdose

Understanding the Signs and Treatment

Table of Contents

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal drug that is part of the class of drugs known as opioids. It is highly addictive.

It is made from morphine, a potent substance found in opium poppy plants that grow worldwide.

The most common—and dangerous—way to abuse heroin is by injecting it intravenously.

Heroin is also known by a variety of street names, including junk, smack, dope, brown sugar, white horse, and China white.

How Much Heroin Does It Take to Overdose?

Two people can take the same amount of heroin, and one may overdose while the other may survive.

This is because various factors influence the risk of overdose, including:

  • Weight
  • Age
  • How the person’s body metabolizes the substance
  • Whether there are any preexisting conditions
  • Whether the drug was taken in combination with other substances

Taking heroin in combination with other drugs such as alcohol and benzodiazepines is especially dangerous. The combination can cause loss of consciousness and act on the brain stem to prevent breathing.

Signs of Heroin Overdose

  • Sleepiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Slow breathing
  • Discoloring of the skin
  • Choking sounds
  • Pale or clammy face
  • Blue or purple fingernails and lips
  • Slow pulse

Symptoms of Heroin Overdose

Below are some of the symptoms of a heroin overdose:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiny pupils
  • Discolored tongue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Constipation
  • Spasms of the stomach and intestines
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Uncontrolled muscle movements
  • Coma

Heroin Overdose Deaths

The number of heroin overdoses has been rising steadily in the United States over the last decade.

During 2010-2015, heroin overdose deaths increased by four times from 3,036 to 12,989.1

In 2015, over 13,000 people died of heroin overdoses in the United States.2

In 2018, nearly a third of all opioid deaths involved heroin. Around 15,000 Americans died from a heroin overdose—almost five deaths for every 100,000 Americans.3

Although the number of heroin overdoses in 2018 decreased by 4% compared to 2017, it is still four times higher than in 1991.4

Medical Treatment for Heroin Overdose

In some cases, such a large dose of heroin requires medical assistance to survive. In such instances in which breathing is very slow or deep, doctors of first responders may administer Narcan (naloxone). Narcan is an opiate antagonist that binds to opioid receptors, preventing heroin from activating them, and can even look like it reverses the overdose.5

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Some of the best options for heroin addiction treatment include:

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient Treatment is geared toward addressing more severe cases of addiction. During this type of treatment, patients live on-site at a drug rehab center while attending different activities, such as one-on-one therapy sessions and group meetings.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient Treatment is a recommended treatment for anyone dealing with a less severe case of substance use disorder. It involves living off-site but attending activities on-site 1 to 2 times per week.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

As the name suggests, Intensive Outpatient Treatment is a more intensive treatment than outpatient care. It involves patients living off-site but participating in a more activities-packed program at a rehab center.

Individual Counseling

Addiction comes with a set of emotional and mental issues. Individual counseling is geared towards helping you discuss those emotional and mental issues to obtain long-term sobriety.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is similar to individual treatment that involves attending group sessions run by a substance abuse counselor. Groups meet several times per week to discuss milestones and setbacks and offer each other support.

Partial Hospitalization

Partial hospitalization is a step-down from 24-hour care inpatient treatment or replaces the need for an inpatient hospital stay. Patients receive treatment 3-5 days a week for about 4-6 hours each day but do not stay overnight at the facility.
This information should not replace a visit to a doctor or treatment center. If you are concerned that you or a loved one might be dealing with a heroin addiction, ask for professional help today.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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