You’re Right to Worry

For anyone who has ever loved an addict, there is no anguish worse than the anticipation of an impending overdose. And the longer your loved one’s history with addiction, the more inevitable that likelihood is.

Such fears are not just paranoia:

  • Emergency room visits for drug overdoses reached 5 million in 2011, a 100 percent increase from 2004.
  • About 1.25 million of those visits were due to illicit drugs.
  • From 2001 to 2014, overdose deaths increased from nearly three-fold for prescription drugs to six-fold for heroin.
  • Overdose is the leading cause of death among Americans.

Also, when more than one kind of drug is used at a time, the risk of overdose increases. Most fatal overdoses are caused by poly-drug use. Risk also increases when the drug user has overdosed in the past. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) drug overdose deaths were in the range of 9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2003. In 2014 the number soared to 15 per 100,000.

What Are the Costs of an Overdose?

When addressing overdose costs, what are we talking about exactly? The financial costs can be quantified; emotional costs are priceless.

A breakdown:

Costs to Family and other relationships: Whether you have a family or simply came from one, drug and alcohol addiction brings pain to the family. Stress and trauma become elements in the emotional landscape. Foolishly, many addicts believe they can hide their substance problems from loved ones.

Experiencing an overdose can bring to a family feelings of helplessness, guilt, and anger. They will wonder if there was more they could have done. They will feel guilty for not being more assertive or stronger in their efforts to get the loved one into treatment. The grief can be compounded when the addiction is kept secret. Without proper psychological support, the damage can be irreparable and long-lasting. Long-term mental health issues can be the result.

Costs to Physical health: We know that overdosing has immediate, life-threatening consequences, but what does it do to the body of the survivor? We know that both drugs and alcohol cause destruction to many of the body’s vital organs including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, heart, lungs, and brain. Drugs and alcohol can affect every part of the body in many different ways.

  • Heroin: Because of heroin’s strong depressant qualities, it can slow down breathing down to the point where it can stop entirely. But short of that, an overdose can cause a lack of oxygen to the brain. This causes hypoxic brain damage. Milder symptoms include short-term memory loss; more serious consequences include cognitive disturbances, decreased motor skills, and permanent brain damage. The heart can also suffer. If heroin is being administered with unsterile needles or dirty cotton, this can cause attacks of bacteria resulting in cardio tissue death. Heroin use can also cause inflammation and irregular heartbeats.
  • Opioids and prescription painkillers: This includes a group of synthetic opiates sold as the prescription drugs OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. Like heroin, opioids affect the part of the brain that controls breathing. Large doses can slow the breathing down to the point where it is fatal. Using other sedating substances like alcohol with opioids increases the life-threatening breathing problems. Overdosing can also cause lung injury, seizures, and damage to the heart muscles.
  • Benzodiazepines: “Benzos” are a class of drugs that include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin that are used to combat anxiety, mood disorders, and insomnia. Benzos dramatically affect the functioning of the brain, mostly by lowering its electrical activity. Benzos also cause unpredictable reactions, among them epileptic-like seizures. Still, benzos are rarely life-threatening on their own. Mixing them with other drugs or alcohol can be extremely dangerous and cause severe and permanent damage. Used with alcohol or opiates, together they can slow down the central nervous system dramatically resulting in unconsciousness, coma, or even death.
  • Alcohol: The effects of heavy drinking on the brain can be extensive and far-reaching. Effects can range from slips of memory to permanent and debilitating conditions that can require lifetime custodial care. Drinking large amounts of alcohol for long periods of time can effect serious and persistent changes to the brain that can include shrinking of gray-matter cells. Other consequences include severe damage to vital organs like the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.

Costs to Mental health: Aside from the physical effects on the brain, in the aftermath of an overdose a person may react with depression, paranoia, guilt, grief, and anxiety. Whether the overdose was accidental, a matter of negligence, or a suicide attempt it is a near death experience and will trigger many difficult feelings. Shock, dismay, awareness of mortality, guilt, blame, and anger will also follow. It is at this time that skilled professional counseling can be crucial.

Financial Costs: According to a JAMA study, about 41 percent of patients who went to a hospital after overdosing on prescription painkillers were treated and released without being admitted; 55 percent were admitted to the hospital; and 4 percent were transferred to an acute care hospital. Antidotes are now available for several drugs and first responders carry them making hospital visits for overdoses less necessary. (There is no antidote for alcohol or cocaine.)

If you do require a trip to the emergency room, hospital basic emergency ambulance transport (in Los Angeles, for example) is about $1,000 to $1,100, $1,200 to $1,300 for a transport that requires life support. If you need to have your stomach pumped, AKA gastric lavage, this can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 depending on your circumstances. If you require a stay in the hospital, the average for those admitted is 3.8 days and the average cost for this treatment was $29,497. The average cost to those patients treated in the emergency room and then released was $3,640.

If worse comes to worst and the overdose leads to death, a funeral, including burial, costs about $8,000. Direct cremation with no services is $2,700.

What an Overdose Looks Like

Knowing how to recognize an overdose while it’s happening can save lives.

The most obvious sign is unconsciousness. But even a person who is sleeping through a drug or alcohol episode can be at risk. Snoring and gurgling can mean a person is having trouble breathing. Depressant drugs like opioids, benzodiazepines, and GHB slow down the systems of the body and snoring may be an indication of serious and potential life-threatening obstruction of the airway. With substance abuse, snoring should not be seen as normal.

Other signs of a depressant overdose:

  • Blue lips or fingertips
  • Floppy arms and legs
  • No response to stimulus
  • Disorientation
  • Can’t be woken up – unrousable

Call an ambulance when someone is experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • A seizure
  • Severe headache
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Extremely paranoid, agitated and/or confused

Save a Life

However you measure it, getting professional treatment for substance abuse will save you much more than money, whether it’s for you or a loved one. Every day you put off getting help is another day you put your life at risk.

If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

How Costly Can an Overdose Be?