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Prescription Drug Overdose: Learn the Signs and How to Get Help

By Kyle Kirkland
Prescription drug overdose can be deadly. Knowing the signs can help save a life.

With so many people using prescription drugs, the potential for abuse and overdose increases. Here’s what you need to know about how to identify and help someone who may be at risk for a prescription drug overdose.

Symptoms of Prescription Drug Overdose

“The abuse of prescription medication is usually the result of a medical event: surgery, illness, trauma such as a car accident,” Joanne Ketch, a mental health professional who specializes in patients with substance abuses, tells WebMD Connect to Care. Ketch says that, during the early stages, the person may start taking more than the prescribed amount or taking their medication more frequently than prescribed.

The first outward signs of drug abuse may be observed in the suspected abuser’s behaviors. Ketch says you may notice any of the following behaviors from someone struggling with drug abuse:

  • Frequently claiming prescriptions have been lost or stolen
  • Stealing others’ prescription drugs
  • Frequently visiting the emergency room 
  • Visiting more than one doctor
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in personality
  • Changes in energy level
  • Changes in level of social engagement

Ketch says, depending on the drugs being taken, the person struggling with prescription drug abuse may also experience physical symptoms, such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Problems with memory
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in breathing
  • Tremors (involuntary muscle movement)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Inability to focus

What You Should Do

According to the Mayo Clinic, you can help prevent potential drug abuse by speaking openly with your doctor about your symptoms—and any other drugs you may be taking—to ensure you receive the right medication, understand how your medication will make you feel, and know how to correctly take your medication.

However, if you already struggle with prescription drug abuse, there are treatment options available.

“Given the nature of prescription drug use, inpatient detox is recommended so there is medical supervision,” Ketch says.

Ketch says that those who struggle with prescription drug abuse may experience other problems that require specialized medical care. These health problems may include mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, or pain management problems that arise from illness or injury. Ketch says patients should seek out treatment programs that address all aspects of their substance abuse problems.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

Treatment & Resources for Prescription Drugs