Overdose risk and harm prevention

Every year, accidental and preventable overdose causes death and serious harm in the UK.

The safest way to avoid overdose is not to use drugs at all. If you do use illicit drugs or medications which have potential toxicity – particularly opioids such as heroin, methadone or morphine – there are ways to minimise your risk of harm.

These include:

  • Always use clean needles and do not share injecting equipment. Sharing needles hugely increases your risk of blood borne viruses such as hepatitis.
  • Don’t use drugs alone. This way, the other person can help you in an emergency situation and can call for help and administer naloxone (a medication used to reverse or reduce the effects of opioids) if you do accidentally overdose.
  • Don’t mix drugs together, such as alcohol and prescription medications. Mixing drugs can increase their potency and cause them to interact with each other. Around one third of all fatal overdoses involve alcohol.
  • Never drive after using drugs.
  • If your drug tolerance has changed (eg due to recent contact with recovery services or periods of abstinence from drugs), do not go back to your previous dose if you use again. Doses which you may have been able to tolerate before could be fatal.
  • Think about your surroundings and do not use in an unsafe place.
  • If you are ready to stop using drugs, contact a substance misuse service for advice and support on how to taper down safely. Going cold turkey from opioids can put you at high risk of withdrawal and serious harm.


Naloxone is an extremely important drug which can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, potentially saving a life.

  • In an overdose situation, naloxone can be administered either intravenously or by direct injection into a muscle. It begins to work within two minutes and can reverse potentially fatal symptoms of opioid overdose, such as respiratory depression
  • Naloxone blocks the effects of opioids for around 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the dosage administered. This is usually enough time for emergency services to arrive and for the person to be conveyed to hospital and stabilised.

As well as encouraging our service users to access Naloxone, Spectrum has carried out Naloxone training with partner services and organisations, including police custody services. Naloxone has no psychoactive properties and cannot be misused.

Access to Naloxone kits

Understanding how to administer Naloxone could save a life – and that’s why Naloxone training and take-home kits are available in all our substance misuse services. We give Naxolone kits for free to existing service users who use opioid drugs, as well as their friends and family. We are working with local pharmacies and partners to widen the availability of Naloxone in the community.