No segment of society is free from the danger of drug overdose. You will find people in all walks of life who have thrown their lives away just to get high. Famous people like John Belushi, Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, and Janis Joplin, as well as many others who died anonymously all have the same thing in common; they all poisoned themselves to death with legal or illegal drugs.
At this point in time, nearly 40,000 Americans die every year from overdosing on one drug or another and another 1.5 million plus people were sent to the emergency room for drug overdose. Not only does this represent a significant amount of human misery and suffering, but also a large economic toll.
These intoxicants are substances sold illegally for the express purpose of getting high – there is no medicinal usage attached to them. These include such well-known drugs as cocaine, heroin, meth, angel dust, and ecstasy. The effects of overdose can range from nausea and vomiting right through coma and death.
Cocaine can cause overdose death in healthy young adults by causing cardiac arrest and an overdose of heroin can slow down the body’s metabolism so much that respiration and heart activity simply stop. Ketamine (K) can also cause death as can the improper use of solvents and other inhalants. Needless to say, all the negative effects of street drugs of any kind will only be magnified when alcohol is also being used, or several drugs are being used in combination, such as in a speedball (an injected combination of cocaine and heroin or morphine).
Several new and deadly street drugs have appeared recently, among them ‘krokodil’, an import from Russia. Considered to be a cheap heroin substitute, krokodil is made by mixing cocaine with gasoline or paint thinner. Injected into the body, it can literally cause the body to rot away, and several deaths have been attributed to krokodil.
Drugs prescribed by doctors, mostly to treat pain, now have the dubious ‘honor’ of causing more death and emergency room treatment than other drugs. Few people who use these pills legitimately have problems with overdose, but these drugs are often passed around like candy, either by the person who originally got the prescription, or as a result of being stolen by family members.
Pain medications are notoriously easy to become addicted to, and multiple prescriptions can often by obtained by going to multiple doctors. The medical profession bears some blame for abuse of pain relievers as doctors will generally prescribe these drugs with a very free hand.
Opioid overdose kills about 14,000 people a year in the United States, and once again, combining these drugs with alcohol only makes it more likely that an emergency room visit or death will follow.
Pain medication is not the only cause of prescription medication overdose – people seeking to become intoxicated will also use antidepressants and even medicine meant to prevent epileptic seizures or relieve the effects of Parkinson’s disease.
Alcohol is every bit as much a drug as heroin or angel dust. It is an addictive substance that causes deterioration of the liver, heart, gastrointestinal system, and brain. Alcohol is also a drug that it is quite possible to overdose on.
Most people think that drinking too much will simply result in drunkenness or passing out, but overindulgence in alcohol can also cause alcohol poisoning and death. Drinking 5 or 6 drinks in the space of only 2 hours, the level of alcohol in the blood will reach a potentially lethal level. The body can only handle about 1 drink per hour, any more than that, and blood alcohol will begin to accumulate.
A blood alcohol level of .4 is considered to be lethal. (To put the .4 reading into context, a .5 reading would mean that the person’s blood was half alcohol.) At this point, the system has become seriously depressed with respiration and heartbeat slowing dramatically. In many cases, the drunken person will pass out and vomit; if they are lying on their back, they will drown in their own vomit. Cardiac arrest can also occur from a high blood alcohol level.
Today, most alcohol poisoning and overdose occurs among people under 30, often those who are engaging in binge drinking in college. Alcohol overdose needs to be treated as a medical emergency, and it’s no surprise that alcohol related admissions to emergency rooms top 50,000 a year. Without treatment, the intoxicated person can become comatose and die.
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