The distinction between drug poisoning and a drug overdose is a very fine line. According to the book Concepts of Chemical Dependency and an article published in the journal Public Health Reports, the use of the term “poisoning” is most often reserved for the ingestion of toxic substances, whereas a drug overdose occurs when an individual takes too much of a particular type of drug or medication and suffers ill effects. Overdoses actually represent specific types of drug poisoning events, whereas not all types of drug poisoning are overdoses.
Many substances that are usually considered to be safe can produce an overdose if an individual takes enough of the substance. According to the definition of a drug overdose:
Oxycodone (often sold under the brand name OxyContin and others) is a controlled substance that has significant medical uses, particularly for the control of severe pain. Most individuals can tolerate medicinal amounts of oxycodone and would not suffer toxic effects when using the substance under the supervision of a physician and according to its prescribed instructions.
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Several potential causes can lead to an overdose on an opiate drug such as oxycodone.
Many other factors can contribute to the possibility that a person will overdose on an opiate drug like oxycodone. For instance, individuals who are heavier and younger, and those who have eaten large meals, may have a decreased risk of overdosing on a drug compared to individuals who are lighter in weight, older, or take the drug on an empty stomach. Due to their generally larger body size, males are less likely to overdose on the same amount of oxycodone than females.
An individual’s tolerance level for the drug can also affect their potential for overdose. Tolerance refers to the change in the effects of using a drug that occurs over multiple uses.
Very often, individuals who abuse opiate drugs like oxycodone will quickly find they need higher amounts of the medication to achieve the same effects they once experienced at lower doses. This phenomenon is referred to as tolerance.
Tolerance to oxycodone and other opiate drugs develops rapidly, particularly in individuals who use the drug on a regular basis. These people may be able to tolerate extremely high amounts of oxycodone that would be fatal to healthy individuals.
However, a person’s tolerance for oxycodone can also decrease over time if the person remains abstinent from the drug. Individuals who have been in recovery from an opiate use disorder for even a short period may experience a significant decrease in their tolerance for the drug.
If these individuals relapse and use the high amounts of the drug they used when they were active in their addictive behavior, they actually increase their risk of overdosing on oxycodone. Thus, one of the times when an individual is very prone to experience an overdose is when they relapse after being in active recovery.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that:
The amount of oxycodone that can produce overdose effects will vary depending on the person. People with significant tolerance to the drug will obviously require more of the drug to produce overdose effects, whereas anyone mixing oxycodone with another drug may overdose on a lower amount of the drug.
In a study published in the July 2014 edition of the journal Pain Medicine that looked at population data, it was determined that overdoses occurred at all strengths of oxycodone, whether or not the drug was an immediate-release or extended-release form.
According to the book Poisoning and Drug Overdose, the general effects of an oxycodone overdose include:
An overdose that happens as a result of taking too much oxycodone or any other narcotic drug often produces the trio of symptoms that are referred to as the opioid overdose triad. When there is no other information regarding the type of drug an individual has used, and the person demonstrates these three symptoms, it will often be assumed that they have overdosed on a narcotic medication like oxycodone. The trio consists of:
Other signs that may signal an overdose on an opioid drug like oxycodone include:
The primary cause of fatalities due to an overdose on a narcotic medication like oxycodone is respiratory depression, which can lead to significant brain damage and death. One of the primary concerns when addressing an individual who overdosed on a drug like oxycodone is to ensure the person can breathe.
When someone is suspected of overdosing on an opiate drug like oxycodone, they require prompt medical attention. Call 911 immediately.
While waiting for medical professionals to arrive, take several steps to ensure the individual remains safe. The medication naloxone (brand name: Narcan) can be used to reverse the effects of an overdose on an opioid medication. If an individual has this drug with them and is trained in its use, they can administer it.
(July-August 2015). Drug Overdose Deaths: Let’s Get Specific. Public Health Reports. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4547584/
(August 2018). Overdose Drug Rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
(July 2014). Prescription Histories and Dose Strengths Associated with Overdose Deaths. Pain Medicine. from https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/15/7/1187/1878393
(August 2018). Management of Substance Abuse: Information Sheet on Opioid Overdose. World Health Organization. from https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/information-sheet/en/
(April 2018). Opioid Overdose Reversal with Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio). National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/opioid-overdose-reversal-naloxone-narcan-evzio
(2015). The Recovery Position. Saint John Ambulance. from http://www.sja.org.uk/sja/first-aid-advice/first-aid-techniques/the-recovery-position.aspx