SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day the world’s annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.

According to the World Health Organization, about 500,000 deaths worldwide are attributed to drug use. The U.S. had the highest unadjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in 2020, with 277 lives lost per million residents.

According to Healthy Ozarks, the official Springfield-Greene County Health Department blog, Dr. Nancy Yoon, the Chief Medical Officer for the department, wrote, “Here in the Springfield Community, which includes Greene, Christian and Webster counties, our overdose death rate is higher than the state and national average at 27.5 per 100,000 people.”

She said the rate of substance use disorder in the community is also higher than the national and state average at 4.1%

Overdoses can also occur by use of alcohol, in which the Springfield community has a higher rate of alcohol use disorder than the region and state at 1.9%, according to Yoon.

Eliminating Stigma

She said there are several hurdles that prevent people from being able to get treatment and be set toward a path to recovery. One of those hurdles is the stigma toward an overdose.

“Starting today, try using the phrase “person with a substance use disorder” instead of the term “abuser” or “addict.” Addict or abuser insinuates that substance use disorder is a choice or can pin the blame on the person who is struggling with substance use,” wrote Yoon. Choosing alternate words can help eliminate the stigma surrounding substance abuse disorder.

Yoon explained substance use disorder affects a person’s brain and behavior, which leads to them being unable to control their use of substances.

Risk factors that can increase the likelihood of someone developing a substance use disorder includes, but is not limited to:

  • Genetics
  • Gender
  • Age at first use
  • Psychological factors (the prevalence of other mental health disorders)
  • Environmental influences like substance availability, peer substance use, and/or exposure to traumatic events
  • Personality traits
  • Family involvement such as parent substance use

Tips for preventing overdose:

· Follow medication instructions, do not take more medication or more often than instructed

· Never mix pain medicines with alcohol, sleeping pills or illicit substances

· Prevent children and pets from accidental ingestion by storing medications out of reach

· Dispose of unused medication safely.

Recognizing an overdose

An overdose occurs when someone consumes a toxic level of one or more substances which then affects their body’s ability to function properly.

“An overdose can occur for a variety of reasons, including taking an incorrect dose or mixing several types of medications, or taking medication prescribed for someone else,” wrote Yoon. “Children are particularly vulnerable to accidental overdoses if they take a medication not intended for them.”

If you suspect someone is having an overdose, immediately call 911. General overdose symptoms include nausea and vomiting, chest pain, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, confusion, slurred speech, slowed breathing, and being unresponsive, but awake.

Here are some of the most common substances and some of their overdose signs:


· Confusion

· Low body temperature

· Seizures

· Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)

Stimulants (Examples: crystal meth, cocaine, MDMA):

· Hot, flushed, or sweaty skin

· Rigid muscles, tremors, or spasms

· Hyperventilation or fast breathing

· Fast heartbeats

· Severe agitation or panic

· Hallucinations, paranoia, or other features of psychosis

Opioids (Examples: oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, heroin, fentanyl):

· No response to stimuli such as smells, sounds, or temperature

· Unusual snoring/gurgling sounds

· Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)

· Limp body

· Pinpoint pupils

Depressants (Examples: Valium, Xanax, ketamine, inhalants):

· Limp body

· Pale and/or clammy skin

· Blue/grey fingernails or lips

· Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)

· Confusion or loss of consciousness

How to help in the event of an overdose

“An overdose is a medical emergency and can lead to death,” write Yoon. “If someone you know begins experiencing overdose symptoms or you suspect they may have overdosed, call 911 immediately.”

Even if you are not certain, it is important to call emergency services quickly and provide them with as much information as you can.

To learn more about treatment and services for substance use, visit https://dmh.mo.gov/behavioral-health/treatment-services.

For local treatment services and/or guidance, visit https://www.burrellcenter.com/our-services/recovery-services/.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline