General Information about Opioids

Opioids are a family of drugs. They are primarily used to manage pain. Effects of opioids include:

  • slow heart rate
  • shallow breathing
  • sighing
  • extreme drowsiness
  • feeling like you might pass out

Both legal (prescription) opioids and illegal opioids can cause overdoses.

Fentanyl is an opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. There is a prescription version of fentanyl (usually in patches) that is used to treat severe pain.

Carfentanil is an opioid that is 100 times stronger than fentanyl. It is not for human use. Instead, veterinarians use carfentanil for large animals.

Illegal fentanyl and carfentanil are being mixed into different street drugs.

FAQs about Overdoses

What are signs of an opioid overdose?

Signs of an opioid overdose include:

  • Can’t be woken up
  • Breathing is slow or has stopped
  • Snoring or gurgling sounds
  • Nails and lips turn blue
  • Pupils are tiny or eyes are rolled back
  • Body is limp

What do I do if I see an overdose?

An overdose is a medical emergency.

Here are the 5 things you can do to save a life:

  1. Shout the person’s name and shake their shoulders
  2. Call 9-1-1 if the person is unresponsive
  3. Give naloxone: 1 spray into nostril or inject 1 vial or ampoule into arm or leg
  4. Perform chest compressions or CPR and/or rescue breathing as trained
  5. Check to see if the naloxone is working. If the person does not start breathing normally on their own and additional doses of naloxone are available, doses of naloxone can be administered every 2-3 minutes until first responders arrive.

If you need to leave the person, place them in the recovery position. The recovery position helps keep the person’s airway open so they can breathe and can prevent them from choking on vomit or spit.

recovery position

What is naloxone?

Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It will start to work in approximately 2-3 minutes. Naloxone stays active in the body for up to 2 hours. If the opioid is still in the body after the naloxone wears off, the overdose can return. This is why you need to call 9-1-1 in every overdose situation.

What is the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act?

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act protects you, the person who is overdosing, and anyone at the scene from being charged with:

  • Simple possession of illegal drugs
  • Breaches in pre-trial release, probation orders, conditional sentences, or parole related to simple possession

Use Opioids Responsibly

Don't use alone 
If you overdose when you are alone, there will be no one there to help you. Have a friend or family member with you when you use! Create an overdose response plan.
Know your tolerance

Tolerance is the body’s ability to handle the effects of the substance being used. Tolerance will change depending on many factors (i.e. weight, illness, stress, etc.). Tolerance can decrease when someone has taken a break from using.

Don’t mix drugs with other drugs and alcohol

Using different substances together can increase impairment. This increases your chance of overdoses, accidents, and injuries.

Carry naloxone

Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Free naloxone kits are available through the Ontario Naloxone Pharmacy Program.

Be aware

Anything can be contaminated with fentanyl or carfentanil. You can’t see it, taste it, or smell it. Even the smallest amount of fentanyl or carfentanil (i.e. the size of a few grains of salt) can cause an opioid overdose. Do tests to check the strength of what you are using. 

The Law (from Health Canada)

Legal Opioids Illegal Opioids
  • Prescribed to you by a health care professional
  • Street drugs
  • Opioids you receive from someone who is not a health care professional
  • Opioids that are prescribed to someone else, but that you take


For more information, please visit the Controlled Drug and Substances Act.

Read about Drugs and Travel.

Ask for Help

Check in with yourself regularly and remember that help is available. Visit our Local Resources page for a complete list of resources.

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