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What Are the Signs of Heroin Overdose?

person sitting with hands clasped on lap considers the signs of heroin overdose

Since the opioid epidemic of the 90s dramatically increased the prevalence of addiction to opioids such as heroin, the incidence of overdose has risen steeply as well. In the 150 years since heroin was first extracted from opium as a pain medicine, it has been used illegally by people who crave its euphoric effects. No longer used medically, heroin is still responsible for about 15,000 deaths annually. If you are concerned about your abuse of heroin or that someone you love is in danger of a heroin overdose, learn about how a heroin addiction treatment program can help.

At Apex Recovery Nashville, we treat heroin use disorders in both an outpatient and inpatient setting and can offer a wide range of evidence-based therapies as well as holistic options. To learn about heroin overdose symptoms, how heroin affects the brain and body, and how we can help you take your first steps toward recovery, reach out today. Our online form is easy and quick, as is calling us at 615.703.4639.

How Heroin Affects the Mind and Body

The continued use of heroin can lead to physical tolerance, which requires increasing amounts to achieve desired effects. Tolerance can result in dependence and, finally, addiction.

Tolerance, dependence, and addiction occur when the body consumes heroin regularly until the systems of the body and brain become used to it and finally cannot function without it. For example, the brain loses its natural ability to produce neurotransmitters—the building blocks of the brain’s communication system—because of the continual flood of heroin on the receptors that normally would regulate the levels of dopamine, serotonin, and other brain chemicals. Without the heroin, your brain can no longer help you experience pleasure, attachment, or contentment.

Dependence and addiction make it very painful to stop using heroin. If you run out of the drug or it is withheld, strong cravings and symptoms of withdrawal begin within just a few hours.

There are not only heroin receptors in the brain but throughout the body, including the gastrointestinal tract and the peripheral nervous system. Overdose can happen when the receptors throughout the body and brain are completely overwhelmed and simply start to shut down. Knowing the signs of a heroin overdose can save a life.

Signs of Heroin Overdose

When the body is under assault from continuous heroin abuse, the happy feelings become harder to achieve, and the heroin simply helps the user maintain a physical status quo. Not being plunged into withdrawal becomes the goal, and require higher doses of heroin may be necessary to prevent such consequences. However, those higher doses make the risk of overdose even more likely.

It is important to understand the signs of heroin OD so you can recognize them in time to get help for you or someone else. The signs include:

  • Gasping for air
  • Shallow breathing
  • Intense pallor
  • Blue lips or fingertips
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Spasms and seizures
  • Discoloration of the tongue
  • Pupils constricted to pinpoints
  • Delirium or an altered mental state
  • Going in and out of consciousness/inability to remain awake or alert
  • Coma

Overdose results because, when overwhelmed body systems slow down, breathing and other autonomic functions can slow and even stop suddenly. Not all overdoses result in death. There is no easy way to predict how an overdose will end. Even when an overdose does not end in death, it taxes the body and leaves it weakened, sometimes permanently.

Contact Apex Recovery Nashville’s Heroin Addiction Treatment Center Today

Heroin overdose symptoms, when recognized quickly, can be halted with interventions, especially the administration of naloxone, commercially marketed as Narcan. Have you experienced a heroin overdose? Or come close to overdosing on heroin? Perhaps you simply recognize that your continued abuse of heroin could lead to unwanted consequences. Let Apex Recovery Nashville help you navigate your recovery from this dangerous opiate.

Reach out today to speak to one of our staff about how to recognize the signs of heroin OD before it’s too late. Our professional team uses proven evidence-based therapies to support you. Call 615.703.4639 today or use our online form to connect.

Brenna O’Brien, LCSW

Lead Therapist

Brenna is a Nashville native who earned both her undergraduate and master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from The University of Tennessee where she graduated in 2011. She has a thirteen-year background working in the behavioral health field with adults at all levels of care. Brenna started her career working at a local inpatient hospital, followed by a six year career with a residential co-occurring treatment center. Brenna served as the founder and director of the Clinical Consultant team where she developed protocols to assist patients in getting access to care efficiently without sacrificing customer service. As a result of her efforts, she was named the treatment center’s Innovator of the Year in 2018. She loves to be the voice of hope for patients and families in crisis by providing education and clinical direction.
Brenna’s fun-loving and accepting nature has served her well as a clinician treating individuals struggling with complex trauma, anxiety, depression, perfectionism, and co-occurring disorders. Brenna is a certified NARM therapist and co-owner of SHEchiatry, PLLC, a boutique mental health practice for women in Nashville.

During her off time, you can find Brenna thrift shopping alongside her French Bulldog Reau. She also particularly enjoys early mornings with a matcha latte followed by all things local.

Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani, D.O., MPH, FAAFP, FASAM

Medical Director

Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani graduated from Boston University with a degree in biomedical engineering. She would later go on to complete two master’s degrees at Boston University, one in epidemiology and biostatistics and the other in medical science, along with her doctorate in medicine from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Sadri began her career as an epidemiologist in infectious disease for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. After medical school, she began her career as a family physician at The Community Health Center of Franklin County and then Gardner Family Medicine, a private practice in Gardner, MA. Dr. Sadri made the decision to work with the recovery community as a physician at CleanSlate Centers, then become part of the Promises Behavioral Health leadership team, and then continued her career at PsyclarityHealth.

Dr. Sadri-Azarbayejani is an involved member of medical societies, including the Massachusetts Medical Society, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)and has a publication in AAFP News detailing how family medicine can lead addiction care efforts.

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Fred Bowen

Founder & Board Member

Fred was raised in San Clemente, California. Fred was exposed to the drug culture at a very early age. By the time Fred had graduated from high school, his addiction had progressed to a point that most people do not return from. For another decade, he struggled with addiction and recovery with multiple attempts at abstinence. There were periods of homelessness along with periods of high functioning and experiencing success. Fred realized, ultimately, that addiction was always in control. At the age of thirty, on death’s door, Fred had hit rock bottom and had a moment of clarity that would save his life. That clarity was the sea of change in his life.

20 years later, Fred is not able to recognize his past life in comparison to where he is now. Early on, Fred had made the decision that addiction and recovery would be his sole vocation. He started sober living homes and found that working with people that suffered from the same addiction would be his passion. This was the beginning of Apex Recovery.

“I’m extremely proud of the person I have become simply by staying clean and having an open mind in regards to the recovery process.”

Fred’s hope for anyone suffering the way he did is to be able to find a way out of the vicious cycle of addiction. Recovery is a gift that all are entitled to. Apex can be a part of that.

Jennifer Adams

Chief Legal Officer

Jennifer has over 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry. She began her career as a paralegal in the legal department of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST), where she spent 15 years learning the health insurance industry. Jennifer held various positions at BCBST, including paralegal, senior privacy consultant, chief privacy, security and compliance officer for a technology subsidiary, and shared health and senior counsel.

Jennifer then further advanced her healthcare experience by joining the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for almost 10 years. Jennifer served as the director for payer Relations, where she was responsible for managing all payer relationships across the country for the VA. In her last position, Jennifer was a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and served as the executive director for integrated external networks, which was responsible for the development, oversight, and management of the community care network program that provides veterans access to community providers when VA cannot provide the service timely or close to home.

Jennifer joined Apex Recovery in February 2023 as our chief legal officer. Jennifer graduated from Tennessee Wesleyan College with a Bachelor of Science business degree in human resource management, economics, and finance. She also holds a Juris Doctorate degree from the Nashville School of Law.

Branch Atkisson

National Director of Business Development

A passion for helping those in need started with Branch’s own personal experience growing up. This morphed into professional expertise in the areas of outreach and community development.

A true understanding of what treatment resources are available and how to connect those in need with them has allowed him to develop relationships that continue to benefit APEX’s patients. “I love sitting with addicts and their families in moments of crisis and helping them understand there is hope through the process of treatment!”

Shauna Soderquist

Director of Admissions

Shauna Soderquist is the director of admissions at Apex Recovery. With over nine years of industry experience, Shauna is committed to helping those who struggle with addiction and has experience with all facets of the admissions cycle. Her experience includes lead development, account management, building and growing teams, and recruitment and training. She brings a high-level understanding of insurance and financial implications of treatment. Shauna is a high performer who is driven to meet and exceed goals and while her career path has given her exposure to all parts of the treatment and recovery processes, her passion will always be in building and maintaining relationships with clients while helping them admit to treatment.

Shauna resides in Thompson’s Station, TN with her husband, and two children and is an active member of her community. When she is not helping those who struggle with addiction, she enjoys spending time with her family, working out, traveling, and enjoying live music.

Michael Cartwright

Chairman of the Board

There is no end in sight for Michael Cartwright. He has a sincere goal to provide endless resources to those who truly want to release the grip of addiction.

Known as a premiere addiction industry trailblazer, Michael Cartwright is a noted behavioral health entrepreneur. He founded Performance Revolution LLC, also known as Fit-Rx, in 2009 and, from that success, was then able to merge with a company named Forterus with a successful history of treating over 12 million individuals in need of addiction treatment. Another success in the industry was the founding of Foundations Recovery Network.

Soon thereafter, Forterus grew and developed into AAC or American Addiction Centers being led by their chairman of the board, Michael Cartwright.

Michael Cartwright is a pillar in dual diagnosis management and the founder of Foundations Associates. Under his management, the organization grew to include four alcohol and drug treatment facilities nationwide, including the Canyon, the leading recovery facility in Malibu, California. One highlight in Michael’s service career is when he served and testified on the Senate Help Subcommittee on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

Dr. Matthew Bruhin


Dr. Matthew J. Bruhin is the chief executive officer of APEX Recovery. Along with co-founder Fred Bowen, Dr. Bruhin utilized his experience in the creation of high-end rehabs to construct a center that was cutting-edge and affordable yet lacked nothing. His vision, eye for detail, and desire to lead have created an unparalleled vision for treating addictive disorders coupled with mental and emotional concerns. Dr. Bruhin treats every staff member and participant like family and hopes to bring his clinical and administrative vision to many.

Dr. Bruhin is a State of California Board of Behavioral Sciences-licensed marriage and family therapist as well as an addiction specialist registered by the Breining Institute. Dr. Bruhin earned his doctorate in addiction psychology, has a Master of Arts degree in counseling psychology, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology with a minor in addictive disorders. Additionally, he holds many other certifications and has tens of thousands of hours of clinical and training experience.

Dr. Bruhin has a diverse clinical training background, working in the mental health field for over 12 years. He specializes in the treatment of addiction and has specialized experience and clinical training in the treatment of prescription addiction, sexual addiction, and gambling addiction. He works with many individuals and families, ranging from those with chronic mental health conditions to high-level professionals, professional athletes, executives, Hollywood film producers, and TV personalities. He has developed his own specialized and effective techniques for the treatment of addiction and chemical dependency.

Dr. Bruhin loves to write and blog and he appears regularly on network TV as a leader in the addiction field. He has worked with clients from A&E’s hit TV show Intervention as well as the Tyra Show. Dr. Bruhin also performs local TV segments in order to get the public educated about addiction and to break down the stigma of mental health issues. Dr. Bruhin balances his passion for work with the love of his family, his enjoyment of travel, and his vintage Star Wars collection, which can be viewed in his private office.