Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023



When individuals need next level treatment

Shawn McNeil, MD, FAPA, FASAM

For many of us, understanding the rationale behind a drug overdose would prove to be a confounding task.

Numerous overdoses are intentional and reflect a valley of emotional anguish that an individual is experiencing.

However, there are countless instances of unintentional overdose that can take a toll no less surprising and no less severe on the individuals and those with whom their lives intertwine. Although there are many reasons that a person may overdose, it is important to approach this subject with a mindset of understanding and compassion for those affected.

Whether resulting in death or not, an intentional overdose is like a flare in the darkness. Sometimes the purpose is to raise an alarm that the individual needs help. Unfortunately, some cases result in death due to the lethality of the substance(s) taken. Many (especially the young) do not understand how deadly certain substances can be, and what started as a cry for help can have grave effects.

Fortunately, many who intentionally overdose are either revived or do not suffer the heavy fate they intended. These situations allow mental health professionals to intervene in a clinical capacity. Often, these people are admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit, and the hard work is begun to help them pick up the pieces of their life. Like a puzzle, many pieces are brought together to rebuild a safe and nurturing environment where a person can hopefully lead a stable life.

Unintentional overdose generally results from one of two scenarios. The first is when someone uses a medication or supplement (such as a sleep aid or pain medication) for its desired effects but takes too much. Many of these cases will also be referred to mental health due to concern about the person’s true motivation for taking so much of the substance.

The second scenario is where an individual is abusing a street drug or pharmaceutical, usually to get high. It is very easy to take too much of certain substances, especially once the person is in an altered state of mind.

Although many drugs can produce this effect, a large part of the national discussion about unintentional overdose revolves around opioid overdose and the increase in mortality we have seen as a result. Opioids include many strong pain medications (such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine) but also include opium and heroin. In excess or in combination with certain other medications, these drugs can decrease a person’s ability to breathe, sometimes with dire consequences.

As International Overdose Awareness Day (Aug. 31) approaches, my challenge to everyone reading these words is to take a moment to reflect on those around you who seem to be struggling. Helping them in a dangerous and dark time is not an obligation but rather an act of compassion that may have a more profound impact than you know. The public can educate themselves regarding the use of rescue medications like Naloxone (Narcan), especially if there is a high-risk individual around.

Also, being able to seek emergency help is sometimes a critical first step. Valuable tools include using 911 for emergency services and 988 for suicide and mental health crises. In Louisiana, a call to the parish coroner’s office can also offer a solution when an individual needs mental health treatment.

Shawn McNeil, MD, FAPA, FASAM, is director of the psychiatry residency program at LSU Health Shreveport and associate CMO of Louisiana Behavioral Health.


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