To prevent accidental overdoses, medications, even over-the-counter pain relievers and vitamins, must be kept in a safe, secure place. Intentional overdoses are harder to prevent, unless the underlying problems are addressed. Unintentional, illicit drug overdose is a serious problem best avoided by getting the person away from access to the illicit drug (see Drug Dependence and Abuse).
- People with certain mental illnesses need the help of family and friends to assist with medication therapy and to lend social support. Drug abusers also need this same support in order to stay clean and safe.
- Poison prevention and injury prevention in children is an important task for parents, grandparents, and others who take care of small children. Make your home safe so children do not have access to medications. Accidental poisoning is a leading cause of death in children from ages 6 months to 5 years.
- Make sure elderly people understand how to take their medication and can recognize one medicine from another. It may be safest to provide some sort of supervision for seniors in taking medication. Pills can be sorted into small containers and labeled to show the time they are to be taken. Some containers come with clocks that have audible alarms as a reminder to take medications at specific times. Other containers can be filled a week at a time.
Depending on which substances are taken in an overdose, many people can recover successfully and without lasting physical disability.
- Some drugs can cause transient damage to certain organ systems. Improvement is noted first in the hospital and then at home. However, some overdoses can cause permanent damage to certain organ systems. The liver and the kidneys are organ systems at high risk.
- Brain damage resulting from suppression of lung and heart function is generally permanent.
- If the mental health problems that led to an intentional overdose are not addressed, the person remains at risk for subsequent drug overdoses. Multiple overdoses can have a cumulative effect on some organ systems and lead to injury and organ failure. Sometimes, this effect is not recognized until later in the person's life.