Opiate Abuse: Common Questions & Answers

What is addiction?

  • A chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.  Drugs change the brain.  These changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

What is Tolerance?

  • When the person no longer responds to the drug in the way that person initially responded. Stated another way, it takes a higher dose of the drug to achieve the same level of response achieved initially.

How does my tolerance level impact risk for overdose?

  • This is a concern for those with Opiate addiction because the highest risk for overdose occurs after a person has had a period of detox or sobriety.  A person will believe they need the same dose they have used in the past to achieve the high but their body’s tolerance level has changed resulting in accidental overdoses.

How Do You Know You Are Ready To Get Help?

  • Have you ever felt you should cut down your use?
  • Have you ever felt guilty or bad about using?
  • Have you ever that if you could quit using your life would be better?
  • Have you ever been in trouble with the law, at school or work due to your use?
  • Has your drug use cause problems at home with your spouse/partner or family?
  • Have you used to ease withdrawal symptoms or avoid feeling low?
  • Are you currently experiencing withdrawal symptoms: excessive sweating, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, muscle pain, extended fatigue.
  • If you answered “Yes” to these questions there are a number of treatment options available and you are encouraged to visit the Information for People in Crisis section.

What is Naloxone?

  • Naloxone is a medicine commonly known as Narcan that can be used to reverse an overdose caused by opioid drugs.
  • When administered during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioid on the brain and restores breathing.
  • It can be given as an injection in a muscle or as a nasal spray.
  • Naloxone works rapidly and will not harm the person receiving.
  • Whenever using Naloxone, make sure to call 911 to report the overdose.  This is both a life saving measure and a protection measure for the person assisting the overdose.

What are the signs of an Overdose?

  • Slow breathing (less than 1 breath every 5 seconds) or no breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Face is pale and clammy
  • Blue lips, fingernails, or toenails
  • Slow, erratic, or no pulse
  • Snoring or gurgling noises while asleep or nodding out
  • No response when you yell the person’s name or rub the middle of their chest with your knuckles
How should I respond to someone who is experiencing an Overdose?

  • Try to wake the person up by yelling their name and rubbing the middle of their chest with your knuckles
  • Call 911 and explain that the person has stopped or is struggling to breath
  • Make sure nothing is in the person’s mouth that can block their breathing. If breathing has stopped or is very slow begin rescue breathing. 
  • If possible, administer naloxone (NARCAN).

Someone I know is using Opiates, how can I help them?

  • Try to offer your support to the person and encourage them that when they are ready to seek treatment you will be there for them.  Understand that relapse is part of any recovery journey. There are a number of support groups for those impacted by addiction to help you in this process.  Become familiar with signs of use, signs of an overdose, and how to respond to an overdose with tools such as Nalaxone.  Remember that you and your family are not alone and there are services available to help. 

If someone uses drugs other than opiates, like Meth or Cocaine do they need to be as concerned about overdoses?

  • Heroin based drugs are getting a lot of publicity, but overdoses can occur from other drugs as well.  Part of the real concern right now is a dangerous drug called Fentanyl.  A trend that is occurring is street drugs like counterfeit Xanax, or Meth or Crack sometimes is laced with Fentanyl, and the person using it doesn't know that.  These are a large majority of the overdoses that are occurring.  If someone is going to use they should never do it alone, and should always carry naloxone in case of an overdose.

What is Harm Reduction?

  • Harm Reduction looks to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use to best serve the health of the client.  This approach understands the complex nature of addiction to support client’s in recovery.
  • Examples of how Columbus is utilizing Harm Reduction to fight the Opiate Crisis include: Nalaxone access, syringe access through SafePoint, Medication Assisted Treatment programs, and Infectious Disease testing and counseling.

What is Medication Assisted Treatment?

  • Programs that offer prescribed opiates such as Buprenorphine (Suboxone)Methadone, and Vivitrol (Naltrexone) to reduce the withdrawal symptoms while working in individual and group counseling sessions.
  • Columbus Public Health offers an MAT program for clients.  Please call (614) 645-0479 for more details.
  • Maryhaven and CompDrug are two other locations that offer Medication Assisted Treatment options.

What is Syringe Access?

  • Access to clean materials can reduce the health risks linked to injected drug use such as infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.  SafePoint through Equitas Medical Center offers access to clean syringes that follows a need-based model. That means people can get new syringes based on their need to use a sterile syringe every time.

What the risks to Prescribed Opiates such as Percocet and Vicodin?

  • All opiates have risks whether they are legally prescribed or not.  While prescribed opiates are beneficial for lessening pain they should be taken only as prescribed by your doctor. It is important to list other medications you may be taking as mixing certain drugs with opiates increases risks for overdose.  Opiates should never be mixed with alcohol or other opiate medications as combining such substances increases overdose risks.  As with all medication there are risks for side effects including being tired or struggling to focus.  Remember that only the person prescribed the medication should take the medication.  Parents are encouraged to keep all medication but especially Opiates out of reach of children. 

What is Detox?

  • The process of monitoring and administering medical treatment, to a person experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms vary from being very uncomfortable to being life threatening.

Where Can I go to Detox?

  • Heroin is an illegal Opiate that is often used through injection. Those who inject Heroin don’t always use veins in their arms. Signs include the following materials, appearance, and actions:


  • Burnt spoons                                                                                      
  • Tiny baggies
  • Tan or whitish powdery residue
  • Dark, sticky residue
  • Small glass pipes
  • Syringes
  • Rubber tubing


  • Tiny pupils
  • Sleepy eyes
  • Tendency to nod off
  • Slow breathing
  • Flushed skin
  • Runny nose


  • Vomiting
  • Scratching
  • Slurred speech
  • Complaints of constipation or nausea
  • Complaints of nausea
  • Neglect of grooming
  • Failure to eat
  • Covering arms with long sleeves