The use of opioids, prescribed or not, comes with significant risks. In the U.S., opioid overdose remains a leading cause of accidental death and accounts for more than half of all overdose deaths, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
People who use recreational drugs — including cocaine and methamphetamine — also face an increased risk for opioid overdose. Recreational drugs may be contaminated with unknown amounts of potentially deadly opioids, such as fentanyl.
Naloxone is a first-line defense against such overdoses. If there are opioids in your home or you use recreational drugs, keeping naloxone on hand can help save a life. To get naloxone, talk to your VA provider.
What is naloxone?
Free to any Veteran who needs it and is enrolled in VA, naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. When used immediately after an overdose, naloxone can block the effects of opioids and help prevent death.
Naloxone can temporarily restore breathing, allowing time for medical help to arrive. Its effects are only temporary, so it is critical to seek medical assistance immediately after giving naloxone.
Naloxone can be administered as a nasal spray or an injection. It is safe to use and will have an effect only on someone who is overdosing.
Possible signs of opioid overdose include:
- Very small pupils.
- Slow or shallow breathing.
- An inability to speak.
- Faint heartbeat.
- Limp arms and legs.
- Pale skin.
- Purple lips and fingernails.
Take the next step
If you are a Veteran taking opioids, or if you are a family member or friend who is concerned about a Veteran in your life, talk to your provider about naloxone. Veterans who are enrolled in VA health care and need naloxone can receive it for free.
Links to valuable information
- More information about opioid overdose and naloxone is available at https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/substance-use/overdose.asp.
- Veterans and their families and friends can find support and schedule an appointment at the Substance Use – Take the Next Step.
- Veterans in crisis or those concerned about a Veteran can contact the Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at net/Chat.
- Coaching Into Care aims to educate, support and empower family members and friends who want to encourage a Veteran to seek treatment for problems with substance use or for mental health concerns. Call 888-823-7458.
- The SAMHSA National Helpline offers confidential, free help from public health agencies that can direct you to substance use treatment and information. Call 1-800-662-4357.
If you see someone who is showing symptoms of overdose or who is in immediate danger, dial 911.