Fact Sheet OPIOIDS


Opioids is an umbrella term for natural or synthetic drugs that
are derived from – or related to – the opium poppy.
Opioids attach to receptors in the central nervous system, reducing pain
signals to the brain. Commonly used opioids include oxycodone, morphine,
codeine, heroin, fentanyl, methadone and opium.


Opioids dull the senses, induce relaxation and euphoria. They depress
(slow down) breathing and the heart rate.
In high doses, opioids depress the body’s natural urge to breathe. When
someone is having an overdose they can stop breathing and may die. Even
if a person does not die from overdose, they can sustain brain damage.

Signs of overdose can include:

  • No response to stimuli
  • Shallow/stopped breathing
  • Can’t be woken up
  • Unusual snoring/gurgling sounds
  • Blue/grey lips or finger tips
  • Floppy arms and legs

If you cannot get a response from someone, do not assume they
are asleep. Unusual or deep snoring is a common sign of overdose.
Do not let people at risk ‘sleep it off’.


Sometimes it can take hours for someone to die from an opioid
overdose. Action taken as soon as possible could save a life. If you
think someone has overdosed, knowing how to respond is crucial:

Check for vital signs

  1. Alert: Not responding to voice?
  2. Breathing: Noisy? Shallow? Slow? Stopped? Strange snoring?
  3. Color: For fair-skinned people, blue or pale lips or fingertips?
    For darker skinned people, grayish or ashen lips and skin color.

If you see any of these signs, you should immediately move
to activate the response plan for opioid overdose.

Before you act, check for dangers such as needles.

Call an ambulance, tell the operator your location, and stay
on the line.

Try to get a response from the person by calling their name and/or
giving a sternal rub (rub your knuckles firmly across their sternum).

If you can’t get a response, put them in the recovery position allowing
their airways to remain open.

The Recovery Position

Support face Place the arm nearest to you at right angles to the body. Place their other hand against their cheek.

Lift Leg Get hold of the far leg just above the knee and pull it up, keeping the foot flat on the ground.

Roll over Keep their hand pressed against their cheek and pull on the upper leg to roll them towards you and onto their side.

If you HAVE narcan/naloxone:

  1. Assemble the naloxone ready for use and inject
    the full amount into the outer thigh or upper arm
    (or use nasal spray).
  2. Record the time of administration. Provide this
    information to paramedics when they arrive.
  3. If the person is not breathing, apply rescue
    breathing (2 breathes every 5 seconds).
  4. If there has been no response after 3-5 minutes,
    give another dose of naloxone. Remember to
    record the time of administration.
    Note: Naloxone will only temporarily reverse
    an overdose.

If you DO NOT HAVE narcan/naloxone:

  • If the person is breathing, leave in recovery position
    and monitor breathing.
  • If person is not breathing apply rescue breathing
    and continue until:
    –– The person starts to breathe on their own
    –– Ambulance arrives
    –– Someone else can take over for you.


  • Do NOT leave the person alone.
  • Do NOT give the person anything to eat
    or drink, or try to induce vomiting.

Content supplied by Penington Institute

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