The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Drug overdose

A drug overdose occurs when a chemical substance (i.e. drug) is ingested in quantities and/or concentrations large enough to overwhelm the homeostasis of a living organism, causing severe illness or death. Essentially it is a type of poisoning.



The word "overdose" implies that there is a safe dosage and therefore the term overdose is commonly only applied to drugs, not poisons. One can not overdose on cyanide because it is a poison-- it is harmful at any dosage.

Drug overdoses are often used to commit suicide, but many drug overdoses are unintentional and are usually the result of either irresponsible behavior (such as overindulging at a college keg party), or the misreading of product labels (such as taking 4 pills every 1 hour instead of 1 pill every 4 hours).

A common unintentional overdose in young children involves multi-vitamins containing iron. Iron is component of the hemoglobin molecule in blood, used to transport oxygen to living cells. When taken in small amounts, iron allows the body to replenish hemoglobin, but in large amounts it causes severe pH imbalances in the body. If this overdose is not treated with chelation therapy, it can lead to death.


Symptoms of overdose occur in various forms:

Diagnosis and management

The diagnosis can be very difficult if the patient cannot (or refuses to) state which medication has been overdosed. Initially, correcting abnormalities is essential (e.g. forced diuresis or sodium bicarbonate for acidosis).

In some instances, empirical antidotes may be administered if there is sufficient indication that the patient has overdosed on a particular type of medication: naloxone in opioids and flumazenil in benzodiazepines. Rapid reversal of symptoms may serve as proof in these cases.

Common causes

Common types of drugs that are overdosed on:

See also

Last updated: 02-10-2005 17:27:56
Last updated: 05-03-2005 09:00:33