Those Saved from Opioid Overdose Still at High Risk for Death

Boy in treatment

Opioid addiction is an epidemic [1]. In fact, opioid overdose is one of the top leading causes of death in America. There are several different kinds of opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, and certain types of prescription medications [1].

All opioids have similar effects on the brain and body. These drugs can give people a feeling of extreme happiness and pain relief [1]. These effects make it more likely for someone to continue using these substances. The more someone uses, the more likely they are to become addicted [1].

All addictions should be taken seriously because of the impacts they can have on someone’s life. Addiction often negatively affects someone’s relationships, ability to function at work or school, finances, and physical and mental health.

Opiate addiction is particularly risky because of the possibility of overdose. When someone is addicted to opioids, they eventually have to start using more of it to get the feeling they want. As they build tolerance, they won’t get the same feelings of euphoria or pain relief that they did when they first started using.

This can lead to an overdose. When people survive an overdose, they are still at high risk for overdosing again and dying. In fact, research shows that 1 in 20 people who are treated for an opioid overdose die within a year. Even more alarming is that a lot of these people died within two days [2].

It may seem shocking that someone would continue to abuse drugs shortly after overdosing. However, when someone becomes physically dependent on a drug, they can feel really sick without it. This can push someone to use again, even given the risks.

Knowing that people continue to be at an increased risk for opioid-related deaths after overdosing is leading addiction professionals to advocate for changes. One of these changes would be to provide patients with immediate substance use disorder treatment [2].

This treatment would continue after they leave the emergency room. There are two ways that researchers have found to be helpful in providing this. One is creating centers that provide quick access to treatment, even if someone is continuing to use drugs or if they don’t have insurance.

Man in deep thought about opioid overdoseThe second way researchers have found is effective in supporting this population is with medication [2]. There are medications that can help someone manage the physical effects of withdrawal. This can make it less likely for someone to start using again.

Managing the physical effects of recovering from addiction is one piece of the recovery puzzle. But it’s not the only one. There are often emotional things that contribute to an addiction. This is why medication and treatment may be a good combination to prevent relapse.

Substance use treatment often involves support from mental health professionals, doctors, and peers. Treatment may include individual, group, or family therapy. This is an important part of recovering from addiction because untreated mental health issues, like depression or anxiety, maybe part of the reason why someone started using drugs in the first place.

Providing people with quick, holistic treatment is important in preventing relapse and overdose.


[1] U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2020, July 23). Opioid pain relievers or medicines to treat opioid use disorder: MedWatch safety alert- fda recommends health care professionals discuss naloxone with all patients when prescribing.

[2] Tobin, S. C. (2020, April 2). Many people treated for opioid overdose in emergency departments die within 1 year. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on February 22, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 22, 2021
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.