They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but this picture is all about the numbers. With 38,329 people dying from drug overdoses in 2010, it’s hard to really grasp the lives lost, the families and friends in mourning, or the generations that will never be, for those who took too much of a drug or who fatally mixed two drugs together (including alcohol). Deaths from drug overdoses have been increasing since the early 1990s—fueled most recently by a surge in heroin use.
Recent deaths—Philip Seymour Hoffman this year, Cory Monteith the year before, Whitney Houston the year before that, and so on—remind us almost annually of the dangers of drug use. But for every famous person that dies, tens of thousands of people who were only known by their schoolmates, friends, and families die as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 105 people in the United States die every day from drug overdoses.
“It will never happen to me. I’m not addicted, I’m just partying.”
We know that overdoses don’t just happen to people who are addicted to drugs or who relapsed—that is, started using again after a period of stopping (although they do face a greater risk). A person can overdose on drugs the very first time they try them. It is even more dangerous to mix different drugs or to mix alcohol with drugs.
When you take multiple drugs, you can multiply their harmful effects. For example, both alcohol and prescription pain medications suppress breathing, so if you take them together, your body is more likely to “forget” to breathe. Some drugs, like cocaine and heroin, do different things in the body, but that’s dangerous too. The combination of using more oxygen (because of cocaine’s stimulant properties) and reduced heart rate (because of the depressant effects of heroin), as well as other factors, could cause more harm than if you just used one of these drugs.
Even if you know better than to use these drugs, it’s good to know how to respond in an emergency. If you think someone you’re with may be overdosing, get help by calling 911 or going to the hospital. Scared that you might get in trouble? Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have what is known as “Good Samaritan” laws that protect drug users who seek help for someone who has overdosed. Paramedics and hospitals have access to powerful drugs, like naloxone (known as Narcan) that can reverse opioid overdose.
Help raise awareness about the real dangers of drug abuse by sharing this blog post or this graphic. Then tell us in comments: Does the number of overdose deaths each year convince you to stop using or never to start using drugs?