Accidental overdose can happen to anyone.

Opioids are powerful painkillers. But they can also carry serious side effects, even when taking a prescribed dose.1 These side effects include slowed or stopped breathing, which can be difficult to identify and may be a sign of an accidental overdose. Your loved one may be at risk and not even know it.

I am taking opioids for the first time or take them infrequently

Are you taking opioids for the first time? Or have you had infrequent exposure to opioids, especially in the past six month?

I have an existing respiratory condition

Do you have a respiratory condition that impacts your ability to breathe, such as snoring, sleep apnea, COPD, or asthma?

I take opioids at the same time as taking other sedatives

Do you combine opioids with other sedating substances, such as:

  • Alcohol?
  • Prescription sedating drugs, including sleep or anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines and gabapentinoids?
  • Over-the-counter sedating drugs, including some antihistamines and antinausea medications?
I have a chronic health condition

Do you have a chronic health condition that affects your organs (lung, liver) or conditions like heart disease, obesity, or HIV?

I take higher doses of opioids

Do you take higher doses of opioids? (e.g. >50 morphine milligram equivalents per day)

I have a history of substance use disorder

Do you have a history of substance abuse, illicit drug use, or a reduced tolerance to opioids following a detox?

You did not select any of these risk factors. However, it’s possible to experience slowed or stopped breathing at any time while taking prescription opioids.

  • Being opioid naive / Taking opioids for the first time
  • Respiratory condition(s) such as sleep apnea
  • Combining opioids with other sedating medications, such as benzodiazepines and/or alcohol
  • Older age (65+)
  • Taking high prescribed doses (>50 MME)
  • Medical conditions such as HIV, liver or lung diseases, or mental health conditions
  • A history of addiction
  • Taking opioids for nonmedical purposes
  • Taking opioids again after stopping for an extended period of time

Opioids go by many names, and the word “opioid” doesn’t always appear on the label. It’s possible that your loved one could be taking them without even knowing. In addition, there may be non-medical opioids in your home.

Did you know?

Each of these medications is categorized as an opioid:

Hydrocone- Ibuprofen
Pseudoephedrine- Hydrocodone
Acetaminophen with codeine phosphate

“I had no idea. You can die when you’re taking these.”
—Yvonne Gardner

Parker Stewart, Yvonne’s son, was a healthy 21-year-old who underwent a routine tonsillectomy, and stopped breathing after taking his prescribed dose of opioid painkillers. He died in his sleep while his wife slept nearby—unaware this was happening

Close-up of person handing a pill from a prescription opioid bottle to a loved one
~50% of opioid-related deaths happen when a person is alone.7 But even if they are not, it may be hard for them or a loved one to recognize the signs before it’s too late.8
  • Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”
  • Falling asleep or loss of consciousness
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin
Still, symptoms may be silent. Without immediate help, death or permanent brain damage can occur in minutes.8



Check for the signs of opioid overdose.



Call 911 for help.



Administer naloxone if available.



Support their breathing.



Monitor their response.

Create a safety plan

Speak to your loved one about risks and how to recognize an accidental overdose.

Avoid using opioids alone.

Have naloxone on hand.

Monitor for signs of overdose.

Complement naloxone with monitoring

Know when naloxone (e.g. Narcan®) is needed

Naloxone is an opioid overdose reversal drug that can be life-saving when used in time. However, it cannot be self-administered during an emergency.11 Monitoring can be a complement to naloxone by helping you know when early intervention may be required.