Trauma Survivors Network - provided by ATS

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A Program of the ATS

Drug Overdose

Drug overdoses can be intentional or accidental. They can occur when a patient is using a drug to alter some part of the patient’s mind or body. They can also occur in the hospital setting when a practitioner makes a mistake in administration of the drug.

A drug overdose is a type of poisoning; more specifically it is the ingestion of a drug in high enough amounts to overwhelm the body and cause damage or even death.

The individual’s reaction to a drug overdose can vary highly depending on the person, and on the drug. Improper ingestion of drugs also tends to have greater effects in children. Some common signs and symptoms include an enhanced effect of the drug; for example, if the drug is to moderately lower blood sugar then signs of an overdose might include extremely low blood sugar. Sleepiness, confusion, changes in heart rate, blood pressure, chest pain, sweaty or cool skin, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, production of blood in the stool or vomit, are also common signs of poisoning.

Some drug overdoses are intentional, meaning that the person took the drug to commit suicide, or was given the drug by someone else trying to commit murder. Most overdoses are accidental and are caused by not reading or following accompanying labels.

Most often the diagnosis as to what the causative agent was is known. In other cases it is sometimes necessary to administer blood tests to determine the cause of the overdose. In most cases of overdose, supportive measures are all that are needed to control the problem. More aggressive treatment includes, in the case of eating the drug, cleaning out the stomach via pumping it or feeding the person a charcoal that will absorb the drug. Some types of overdose require a special antidote drug but this varies and is up to the physician in charge of care to decide. Most victims of overdose will recover without permanent injury or disability. Some drugs can, however, cause temporary or permanent organ damage with the liver and the kidney being most commonly affected. If the brain or heart is damaged by overdose the effect is usually permanent.

Drugs enter the body and are able to travel to different sites of action. As they work in different areas they can cause a wide variety of effects. They can affect every part of the body in many different ways.