Overdose Prevention

The best way to avoid an opioid overdose is by not taking opioids, but that is not always realistic. And while naloxone can save someone after an overdose, it can’t stop one from happening. Mixing drugs, a user’s tolerance level, and a drug’s quality are all things that could factor into an overdose. (For more detailed info about how to prevent an overdose, click here.)

Mixing Drugs

Drugs taken together can increase their overall effect, but it can also lead to an overdose. Most deadly overdoses happen when people mix drugs, whether on purpose (to increase their high), or accidentally (when buying laced street drugs, for example). Mixing opioids and/or alcohol with medicines like Xanax or Valium can be especially dangerous and using heroin with cocaine (called “speed balling”) can also put someone at higher risk of overdosing.


Tolerance is your body’s ability to process a certain amount of a drug. Low tolerance means that it takes less drugs to feel the effects, and increased tolerance means your body has learned how to process more of the drug, so you need more to feel it.

Weight, size, stress, being sick, and age can also affect your tolerance. Tolerance is also lower when someone has taken a break from using.


Quality is how pure, or strong a drug is. It’s hard to ever know the quality of street drugs as they are often cut with other drugs or materials that can be dangerous. For example, fentanyl has been found in heroin, cocaine, and prescription pills like Percocet and Xanax. When getting drugs off the street, users often don’t know a drug’s strength or purity, or the strength of different types of pills.

Using Alone

Using alone won’t necessarily cause an overdose, but it makes it more likely to die from one. Using drugs alone means no one is there to call for help or take care of you if you overdose.

How You Administer

There are many ways to use drugs, including:

  • Snorting
  • Swallowing
  • Smoking
  • Injecting into the muscle
  • Injecting into a vein

Using drugs in a way that delivers them more quickly to the brain, such as injecting into a vein or smoking, puts people at higher risk for overdose. Changing the way you use a drug--from snorting to injecting for example--can make it harder to know how you will handle it and could lead to an overdose.