What are the Signs and Symptoms of Buprenorphine/Naltrexone Overdose?

The U.S. government has declared the opioid crisis a state of emergency. In 2017, more Americans died from opioid overdoses than were killed during the entire Vietnam War. Opioid overdoses and deaths have gotten so bad that they are cited as one of the main reasons why U.S. life expectancy rates have decreased in recent years.

Although opioid addiction levels have reached epidemic proportions in the last few years, opioid addiction is not a new phenomenon. In the U.S., addiction to morphine, an opiate derivative, after the Civil War caused a range of social problems in the country. Scientists, doctors, and legislatures have tried numerous ways to lessen addiction rates with varying degrees of success.

During the 1960s, a medication called Buprenorphine/Naltrexone was invented to help treat opioid addiction. Buprenorphine/Naltrexone is a prescription drug that interacts with the brain’s opioid receptors, which are responsible for someone experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opioids when they quit. Buprenorphine/Naltrexone is also used to treat moderate pain. Unfortunately, Buprenorphine/Naltrexone is still an opioid drug and comes with a risk of addiction and abuse.

How many people overdose from Buprenorphine/Naltrexone each year?

In 2017, more than three thousand people overdosed and died on Buprenorphine/Naltrexone that year. In comparison, there were more than 15,000 overdose deaths from heroin and more than 28,000 deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl and tramadol.

Who is most at-risk of overdosing on Buprenorphine/Naltrexone?

All drugs come with a risk of overdose, but the risk is higher for opioid medications because of how they interact with the body. When someone takes an opioid for the first time, the opioid molecules in the drug bind with the body’s natural opioid receptors. The user will experience an intense, chemically addictive high, and a drastic decrease in pain. The issue with opioid drugs is that the body builds a tolerance to these drugs very quickly. After just one dose of an opioid, a user will need slightly more of the drug to get the same euphoric high they had the first time they took the substance.

People who are addicted to opioids will take more and more of the drug to get the same, intense effect they crave. Unfortunately, opioids depress central nervous system activity and decrease respiratory rate, temperature, and blood pressure. People who are severely addicted to an opioid, people who mix opioids with other drugs and people at risk of suicide are the most likely to overdose on drugs like Buprenorphine/Naltrexone. The most dangerous chemicals to mix a drug like Buprenorphine/Naltrexone with are other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. Sedative drugs are most often implicated in fatal drug overdoses that also involve opioids like Buprenorphine/Naltrexone.

What happens when someone overdoses on Buprenorphine/Naltrexone?

Buprenorphine/Naltrexone is highly effective for blocking the intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms present in opioid detox. In most instances, Buprenorphine/Naltrexone is prescribed to people in recovery from heroin. People in recovery for heroin addiction have the most to gain by using Buprenorphine/Naltrexone to curb cravings and achieve sobriety.

Not only does Buprenorphine/Naltrexone block cravings in recovering addicts, but Buprenorphine/Naltrexone also blocks the euphoric high that occurs when someone takes a powerful opioid drug like heroin. For these reasons, Buprenorphine/Naltrexone is most commonly used for preventing relapse and helping patients detox and withdrawal from heroin. Unfortunately, though, Buprenorphine/Naltrexone is a schedule two drug, and as such, comes with its own risk of addiction and dependence.

Buprenorphine/Naltrexone overdoses can occur because the substance will linger in the body for an extended period. Users may take more Buprenorphine/Naltrexone than prescribed because the initial effects of the drug may wear off, even though the body is still trying to chemically process and clear the drug.

Because of this risk, Buprenorphine/Naltrexone treatment clinics typically require users to go to the clinic each day for that day’s dose of Buprenorphine/Naltrexone. Chemical accumulation of Buprenorphine/Naltrexone in the user’s system is a significant overdose risk. People who are strongly addicted to Buprenorphine/Naltrexone may inject the drug for quicker, more powerful effects, or mix the drug with other substances to induce a high.

Symptoms of a Buprenorphine/Naltrexone overdose are similar to those present in other opioid overdoses, and may include the following:

  • Constipation, nausea, and vomiting
  • Chest tightness, and labored breathing
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Pinprick pupils
  • Weak pulse and low blood pressure
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Blue-tinged lips and fingernails

Buprenorphine/Naltrexone will also mask pain and distress. Users who are in the midst of an overdose may say they don’t feel any pain and will also appear calm. Loved ones may not realize that someone is overdosing from Buprenorphine/Naltrexone when the user is not in distress or indicating any discomfort. But it is critical that friends and family react quickly to overdose symptoms. These signs can be present for up to ten hours after a person takes Buprenorphine/Naltrexone. Waiting to get help for an overdose increases the chances of fatal respiratory distress, coma, and death.

If a person who is overdosing has become unresponsive, witnesses should make sure the individual is placed on their side. If they become comatose while on their back, Buprenorphine/Naltrexone can cause vomiting, and unconscious people can aspirate and die if they vomit in this position while unconscious. Witnesses should never leave someone alone if they suspect an overdose, and contact emergency services immediately.

Opioid and Buprenorphine/Naltrexone addictions are incredibly serious and require lifelong treatment and therapy.  If someone is addicted to Buprenorphine/Naltrexone, attending a detox and rehabilitation program is critical for achieving and maintaining sobriety. People who are addicted to Buprenorphine/Naltrexone for the treatment of heroin addiction can have their Buprenorphine/Naltrexone prescription switched to a less addictive medication that is effective at blocking heroin cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to Buprenorphine/Naltrexone, it is critical to reach out for help today. The experienced counselors at Windward Way are standing by to answer your questions about detox and rehabilitation for opioid addiction. Please contact Windward Way today for an evaluation and consultation.