How Polysubstance Use Leads to Overdose

Pills & Alcohol

Many people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction use more than one substance. Whether this use is intentional (mixing prescription painkillers with alcohol) or unintentional (using street drugs contaminated with fentanyl), it can lead to overdose and death. A new fact sheet from The Pew Charitable Trusts outlines the problem of polysubstance use and how it contributes to the opioid overdose crisis.

According to the fact street, people who use opioids often co-use with depressants and stimulants. Combining opioids with other drugs is dangerous, especially when people do not know the substances they are using are contaminated with fentanyl or other opioids.

Benzodiazepines and Alcohol

Benzodiazepines (benzos) and alcohol are both depressants, which means they act on your central nervous system to induce relaxation and reduce anxiety. Opiates are sedatives, so when you use opioids and depressants together, the opioid compounds the effects of the other drug, creating a higher risk for overdose and fatal overdose.

In 2018, more than 9,000 U.S. deaths involved opioids and benzodiazepines, and in 2017, about 15% of opioid overdose deaths involved alcohol. Froom 2012 to 2014, over 2 million people concurrently misused overdose and participated in binge drinking (having more than 4 or 5 drinks in a 2-hour period).

Over a 7-year period (2004-2011), fatal overdoses involving benzos and prescription opioids tripled. Evidence also indicates that 23% of people with an opioid use disorder also struggle with alcoholism.

Methamphetamine and Cocaine

Methamphetamine and cocaine are stimulants, which means they increase arousal and activity in your brain. When stimulants are cut with or used concurrently with opioids, the contradictory effects make drug use less predictable and increase the risk of overdose.

People who regularly use methamphetamine and/or cocaine may have a lower tolerance for opioids. This is especially true when cocaine is mixed with powerful opioids, like fentanyl, without the consumer’s knowledge. Since 2010, the number of deaths caused by opioid and cocaine use has increased more than fivefold, and in 2018, nearly 11,000 of the 15,000 opioid overdoses in the United States involved opioids, as well.

Opioids were also involved in 15% of methamphetamine-associate deaths in 2017, and 65% of those seeking treatment for opioid use disorder also had a history of methamphetamine use.

Many people reported using methamphetamines and opioids on the same day or at the same time, which is particularly troubling and dangerous behavior.

How Medical Professionals Can Help

All healthcare providers have a responsibility to address the growing problem of polysubstance use and abuse. Medical professionals should never prescribe opioids and benzodiazepines at the same time, and physicians should carefully monitor their patients’ prescription drug use.

In an effort to reduce overdose, many healthcare professionals distribute naloxone to people who use opioids or are at-risk for opioid overdose. Providers should expand this distribution to include people who use stimulants, as people who struggle with stimulants are also an at-risk population for opioid overdose.

Finally, addiction treatment providers like Decision Point Center should acknowledge and treat polysubstance use and remain dedicated to their patients, every step of the way. People who treat substance use disorder should not only address an opioid addiction with methadone or buprenorphine but also treat addiction to any other substance and explore co-occurring mental health disorders.

Although medication-assisted treatment can be helpful, personalized treatment programs with therapies and enrichment activities are more important and effective.

Decision Point Center evaluates individuals who are struggling as exactly that, people who are struggling. “Addict” is not a word in our vocabulary because we see you as more than your addiction. Our “you-based” treatment programs address every angle of your addiction, as well as your holistic wellbeing. No matter how deep your addiction runs or what substances you are struggling with, hope begins here.

We have been changing lives since 2004, and we want to help you, too.

Take the first step by calling us at (844) 292-5010 or contacting us online.

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