Opioid Overdose Prevention

Opioid Overdose

What are opioids?

Opioids are a family of substances that have pain relieving effects. Opioids are depressant drugs, which means that they slow down basic functions in the body like heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. They can also produce euphoria, an experience of pleasure. Opioids can be either natural or synthetic, and are available through both prescription and unregulated sources. Examples of opioids include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Percodan (Percocet)
  • Codeine

What is an overdose?

“Overdose” is a term used to describe when a person consumes too much of a substance (or combination of substances) than the body can handle, and basic life functions (e.g. breathing) cannot be controlled. It implies that a person knows what the dose of the substance is and chooses to take too much. In Peterborough, and across Canada, the street drug supply is unpredictable and people are often unaware of how much of a substance, or what substance they may be consuming. Many health agencies are now using “drug poisoning” instead of overdose to more accurately reflect the current context.

Anyone can overdose – those with lots of experience using opioids, those who are new to using opioids, and everyone in-between.

Learn more through Peterborough Public Health.

    Opioid Overdose Response & Naloxone

    Signs of Opioid Overdose

    • Can’t wake the person up
    • Breathing is very slow, erratic or has stopped
    • Deep snoring or gurgling sounds
    • Fingernails or lips are blue or purple
    • Body is very limp
    • Pupils are very small


    Naloxone is used as an antidote to opioid overdose as it can reverse its effects and prevent brain damage or even death.

    Research shows that with minimal training, people with no medical background can recognize and treat an overdose with naloxone. Additionally, individuals are empowered by the ability to save a life and approaches like this help reduce stigma towards people who use drugs. The use of naloxone does not replace the need for emergency medical care, but instead prolongs the time that the individual has before long-term effects are irreversible.

    Naloxone Overdose Prevention Kits are an evidence-based approach proven to have positive benefits and are sought after by our communities. In order to effectively treat opioid addiction, we must help ensure that the individuals who use opioids are alive to receive treatment.

    Harm Reduction

    Harm reduction measures help people who use substances to use them in a way that decreases their chances of the potentially negative outcomes. Help decrease the chances of overdose by following these steps:

    1. Use with a friend
      Try to avoid using at the same time in case one of you needs help. Also, do not share needles or other equipment.
    2. Avoid mixing substances
      Risk of overdose goes up when more than one drug is used, especially when opioids are mixed with alcohol or benzos. Try to use one drug at a time.
    3. Do a tester and ask around
      Substance quality and potency can change a lot depending on where it comes from (even from dealers you know). Monitor how the substance tastes, smells and looks – is it different than usual? Try a small test amount first, you can always use more.
    4. Know your tolerance
      If you haven’t used for a while (3 days or more), your body can’t handle the same amount as before. Use less at one time.
    5. Have a plan
      Talk about overdose before it happens and with people you trust. Let someone know before you use and ask them to check on you.
    6. Have naloxone on site
      Have at least one naloxone kit with you while using any illicit substance. Naloxone only helps with opioid overdose, but opioids are being found in many non-opioid drugs. More information about where to find a naloxone kit.

      Overdose Response Myths

      Do Not


      Put the person in a bath/cold water Could drown or put them into shock
      Make the person throw up Could choke
      Inject them with anything other than naloxone Will not help and could cause more harm
      Slap too hard, kick them in the testicles, burn the bottom of their feet Could cause serious harm
      Let them sleep it off Could stop breathing and die


      PDS Overdose Resources

      PDS Factsheets


      Opioid Response Protocols in Workplaces


      How to Access Naloxone


      *All PDS authored resources may be utilized or adapted to the needs of individual groups or agencies without permission. Please include reference to the PDS as the original author and the original year of publication.

      Workplace Overdose Information

      Get Trained to Respond to an Overdose at Your Workplace

      Are you concerned about responding to a possible overdose at your workplace? Learn more and register for upcoming training sessions on understanding opioids and administering naloxone by visiting the Question of Care Training Calendar.


      Should Your Organization Carry Naloxone in Your First Aid Kit?

      Responding to an Opioid Overdose at Work

      1. Have naloxone kitds on-site and ensure staff are trained to use them. 2. Establish an overdose prevention and response protocol. 3. Wear nitrile gloves and do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. 4. If you touch fentanyl immediatly wash the area with lots of water. Do not attempt to wash with alcohol based hand sanitizers as tehy do not remove opioids from the skin!

      Develop Policies and Procedures to Ensure Employees Are Informed When They Respond to an Overdose


      Risks of Responding to an Opioid Overdose at Work

      The risk of inadvertent exposure to fentanyl for staff responding to an opioid overdose in their workplace is extremely low. Routine precautions and overdose prevention training are sufficient for managing the risk of unintended fentanyl exposure while responding.*

      *Ministry of Health, British Columbia. (2017). Guidance statement regarding Personal Protective Equipment for Emergency Medical Services and Health Care Workers dealing with overdose victims. Retrieved from: https://www.fentanylsafety.com/wp/content/uploads/UpdatedGuidance-statement-PPE-EMS-HCW-Jan2017.pdf

      Hand with a nalaxone kit on it

      Get a Naloxone Kit

      Did you know that you can acquire a free naloxone kit? If you, someone you know, or your workplace is in need of a free naloxone kit, you can locate an available kit near you.

      Need Help?

      Peterborough Public Health has put together a list of local resources and places to go for help related to substance use issues. Click the icon above to learn more.