The Opioid Epidemic Doesn't Stop at Church Doors

Learn how to reverse the effects of an overdose

Think the opioid epidemic doesn’t affect anyone in the church? Think again. Prescription opioid use and abuse is prevalent, with up to 29 percent of patients misusing prescribed opioids.1 Further, in 2016:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 Americans filled or refilled at least one opioid prescription.2
  • One study indicated that 32,445 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids—that equals about 47 people every day.3

With so many people taking prescription opioids for pain relief, there is increased potential for addiction and overdose. With planning and training, churches can be prepared to respond to an overdose during Sunday services or during a midweek study.

First: Recognize the signs

During an overdose, breathing can be dangerously slowed or stopped, causing brain damage or death. It’s important to act fast. Signs4 include:

  • Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils.”
  • Falling asleep or loss of consciousness.
  • Slow, shallow breathing.
  • Choking or gurgling sounds.
  • Limp body.
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin.

Second: Learn how to respond

It may be hard to tell if a person is experiencing an overdose. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to treat it like an overdose3— you could save a life.

  1. Call 911 immediately.
  2. Administer naloxone (Narcan®), if available.
  3. Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
  4. Lay the person on his or her side to prevent choking on vomit.
  5. Keep watch until emergency workers arrive.


Finally: There's hope

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), friends, family, and other bystanders can save lives with naloxone.5 To help prepare for a potential overdose, your church medical response team could consider keeping naloxone, a medication that can quickly reverse opioid overdose. Check your state’s laws, but churches may be able to purchase naloxone through what’s known as a direct purchase program, without needing a prescription.

Naloxone (Narcan®) can be purchased as a prepackaged nasal spray. According to an NIH website, from 1996 to 2014, at least 26,500 opioid overdoses in the U.S. were reversed by laypersons using naloxone.4

Need more information?

Read this NIH article about naloxone. Learn your state’s laws about purchasing it.

1 Vowles KE, McEntee ML, Julnes PS, Frohe T, Ney JP, van der Goes DN. Rates of opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction in chronic pain: a systematic review and data synthesis. Pain. 2015;156(4):569-576. doi:10.1097/01.j.pain.0000460357.01998.f1.

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes — United States, 2017. Published August 31, 2017. Accessed May 10, 2018, from

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid Data Analysis. Accessed May 10, 2018, from

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Preventing an opioid overdose – tip card.” Accessed May 10, 2018, from

5 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Naloxone for Opioid Overdose: Life Saving Science. Accessed May 10, 2018, from

Narcan® is a registered trademark of ADAPT Pharma Operations Limited.