Hydromorphone Overdose

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Can You Overdose on Hydromorphone?

Hydromorphone Dilaudid, Exalgo is prescribed to help people who need relief from moderate to severe pain. An overdose on hydromorphone can be the result of taking more than the intended dose, using the drug more frequently than prescribed, or attempting to cause self-harm.

An overdose can be deadly, 2 especially if combined with alcohol or street drugs. Learn more about hydromorphone overdose and recovery, including:

Signs and Symptoms of Hydromorphone Abuse

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Even when used as directed, hydromorphone can cause side effects. At high doses, these effects are intensified.

The signs and symptoms of a hydromorphone overdose can include: 2

  • Weakness.
  • Confusion.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired levels of consciousness.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Coma.
  • Muscle twitches.
  • Breathing difficulties or cessation of breathing.
  • Weak pulse.
  • Clammy skin.
  • Bluish fingernails or lips.

How to Help

If you observe these symptoms in yourself or someone else, don’t wait to get help

. Call 911 right away. Obtaining immediate treatment can mean the difference between life and death or the development of serious medical consequences.

Stay with the person until help arrives. If the person is no longer breathing or has become unconscious, perform CPR if you are trained.

Obtain as much information as you can if the person is still conscious. Find out:

  • The person’s age and weight.
  • The dose and when he or she last took the drug.
  • Whether the person took any other drugs – including alcohol or street drugs.
  • Name of the drug and whether the person has a prescription. 2
  • Whether he or she has a medical condition.

Providing this information to the EMTs can help them assess the situation and provide the best care possible.

Risk Factors for Overdose

Homeless man sitting against a wall

Some of the common risk factors for hydromorphone overdose include: 4

  • Combining hydromorphone with other medications, street drugs, or alcohol.
  • Injecting the drug.
  • Relapse after completion of substance abuse treatment.
  • Frequency of use.
  • Co-occurring mental health issues such as depression.
  • Homelessness.
  • Lower socioeconomic status.
  • Recent release from prison.
  • Previous overdose.

Hydromorphone Overdose Treatment

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An overdose is generally treated through a number of measures by emergency medical personnel. Depending on the situation, treatment for a hydromorphone overdose can include:

  • Monitoring of vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Testing blood and urine.
  • Activated charcoal to help rid the body of the substance.
  • Breathing support through the use of a breathing tube and ventilator.
  • Chest X-rays.
  • EKG to help monitor and assess heart function.
  • IV fluid administration.
  • Specific medications, such as naloxone, to reverse the effects of overdose.
  • Gastric lavage (using a tube to empty the stomach). 2

Can You Die From a Hydromorphone Overdose?

An overdose of hydromorphone can be fatal, especially in children.

Prescription opioid deaths account for more overdose deaths than any other drug. In the U.S., deaths due to prescription opioids in 2014 were estimated at around 19,000, or approximately 52 deaths per day.5 Alarmingly, the number of deaths from prescription opioids-which includes hydromorphone as well as drugs like oxycodone and methadone-has quadrupled since 1999. 6

Even if a hydromorphone overdose is not fatal, it can still result in serious effects and complications. These complications may include: 2

  • Pneumonia.
  • Muscle damage.
  • Brain damage.
  • Permanent disability.

Recovering From an Overdose

Inpatient counseling for hydromorphone addiction

Recovery from a hydromorphone overdose within a few hours is likely if the person receives an antidote (naloxone), obtains appropriate medical care, and does not suffer any complications. However, if a person does not receive treatment or has taken an extremely large dose of hydromorphone, the results can be deadly. 2

People who overdose on hydromorphone may have underlying substance abuse issues that need to be addressed to prevent future overdoses and to avoid the long-term effects of addiction. Seeking professional help from a recovery center can help address the underlying issues that led to the development of an addiction and/or overdose in the first place.

Some of the more common recovery options for hydromorphone addiction include:

  • Inpatient treatment. This recovery option involves a residential stay, usually between several weeks to 3 or 4 months, at an inpatient rehab facility. Treatment methods include detox, individual and group counseling, vocational training, and creative arts therapies.
  • Outpatient treatment. Unlike inpatient treatment, people who opt for this form of treatment live at home and are often able continue their daily routines outside of designated treatment times (e.g., work, school, etc.). Outpatient rehabilitation involves attending individual and/or group counseling sessions and participation in additional treatment offerings, such as 12-step groups, several times per week, at a recovery center.
  • 12-step groups. Often used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, 12-step groups are based on the model originally created by Alcoholics Anonymous. People attend group sessions as often as they like and work through the 12 steps of recovery with the aid of a sponsor and the fellowship of the group.
  • Individual or group therapy. People who complete inpatient or outpatient treatment programs may benefit from the continued support of individual or group therapy. In these forms of treatment, people work with a counselor to help uncover the reasons for their addiction and to obtain support as they try to maintain clean and sober lifestyles.

Find a Recovery Center

You don’t have to deal with addiction or recovery from a hydromorphone overdose alone. Call 1-888-319-2606 Helpline Information to speak to a treatment support specialist about the rehab options best suited for your needs.


[1]. Mayo Clinic. (2016). Drugs and Supplements: Hydromorphone (Oral Route).

[2]. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Hydromorphone overdose.

[3]. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Hydromorphone.

[4]. Fischer, B., Brissette, S., Brochu, S., Bruneau, J., el-Guebaly, N., Noël, L…Baliunas, D.(2004). Determinants of overdose incidents among illicit opioid users in 5 Canadian cities. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 171 [3], 235-239.

[5]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Injury Prevention & Control: Opioid Overdose: Opioid Data Analysis.

[6]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Injury Prevention & Control: Opioid Overdose: Prescription Opioid Overdose Data.

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