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10 Shocking And Bizarre Ways People Have Overdosed

by Jana Louise Smit
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Dosage misadventures are surprisingly common. But the strangest incidents highlight how quickly something can go wrong. Some cases derive from stupidity, like handing out smoking aids in school and choosing your drugs from the insecticide aisle. But sometimes people accidentally overdose because they trusted over-the-counter medicines, during fun challenges and even when they sleepwalk.

See Also: 10 Crazy Myths About Illegal Drugs

10Erectile Dysfunction Drug Overdoses

Sildenafil brings fun times. This is the active ingredient in Viagra, the pill that treats erectile dysfunction. Like all medicine and chemicals, patients are advised to stick to a trusted brand and to honor the correct dosage. Needless to say, some people never listen.

In 2019, a man visited his doctor and complained of eye problems. For the past two months, doughnut-shaped blobs appeared in his vision and they refused to go away. After being questioned, the patient admitted that he bought liquid sildenafil off the Internet. There was no link with Viagra, since the company that makes the pill does not offer a liquid equivalent.

The Massachusetts man’s choice to purchase a dodgy brand was not his only mistake. He also disregarded the dosage instructions. For some reason, he drank the entire bottle—more than ten times the recommended dose. When tests showed that he had irreparable eye damage, doctors were not entirely surprised. Prior to this case, several other patients with retinal damage caused themselves harm by overdosing on sildenafil.

9Sleepwalkers Face Extra Dangers

Officially known as somnambulism, sleepwalking comes with a host of dangers. Sufferers can leave their homes, drive in traffic and open the medicine cabinet without being aware of anything that they are doing. A few years ago, one case proved just how deadly sleep-munching can be. A 55-year-old woman who went to bed with normal vision but woke up the next morning in a near-blind state.

After arriving at the emergency ward, she told the staff about her medical history, which included leg cramps for which she was taking quinine sulfate once a day. A red flag went up. This drug prevents malaria but is so dangerous to the eyes that the Food and Drug Administration specifically warned doctors not to prescribe it for leg cramps. Several deaths are also linked to this drug.

Her physician forgot the memo or did not care. Worse, she also fell into a vulnerable group for quinine sulfate and that was being a sleepwalker. Indeed, the woman ate the entire batch in her sleep. Her sight improved slightly but she now lives with permanent damage to her central vision which is used for reading. She also lost her peripheral vision.

8 The Hidden Danger Of Paracetamol

Paracetamol/acetaminophen is a common painkiller purchased over the counter. Since a prescription is not required, this lulls many people into thinking that paracetamol is always safe. The truth is that taking too many damages the liver and that slippery slope can happen in a heartbeat.

One notable case was that of Desiree Phillips. The young mother, aged 20, had lumps removed from her breast in 2011. To cope with the post-surgery pain, her physician gave her antibiotics and told her to get over-the-counter paracetamol tablets. Nine days after the operation, she was back at the hospital, suffering from excruciating pain. The paracetamol had damaged her liver beyond repair. Despite receiving a liver transplant, she died a week later.

Phillips only took a few extra tablets more than the recommended daily dosage. But it highlighted what experts later confirmed—that taking those two or three extra pills translates into an overdose. Ironically, these tiny, unfelt overdoses do more harm to the liver than a suicidal person who swallows a lot of pills at once.

7Deadly Pain Patches

Fentanyl patches reduce pain. They look like sticking plasters, can be applied to the skin and around 12.5 million were prescribed in 2013. The patches are not sold over the counter. These are incredibly strong painkillers often used by people who need continuous relief, including cancer patients and those in the terminal stage of illness. In 2014, two children overdosed.

In separate cases, the toddlers played with the patches. One child thought they were normal sticking plasters and stuck two on their own body. The second kid merely picked at a patch being worn by an adult. Frighteningly, both children suffered a fentanyl overdose with life-threatening complications.

Despite knowing for years about the drug’s potency, it was not until after the double overdose that regulators issued a warning to doctors, patients and parents about the dangerous patches. They were told to dispose of them in a safer manner and to keep them away from uninformed people and kids. As a bonus, the two toddlers both recovered.

6A Teenager Almost Died From Nicorette

In 2009, the anti-smoking group Decca (Drug Education, Counselling and Confidential Advice) handed out Nicorette nicotine gum to pupils without their parents knowing. The gum was given to the smokers but ended up being passed around on the school ground. That was how Aiden Willams got his hand on a pack.

The 14-year-old didn’t consider the smoking aid as dangerous. After all, the variety was low strength with each piece containing 2mg of nicotine. But Aiden’s nonchalance went too far. The teenager chewed 30 pieces in one hour—the equivalent of 900 cigarettes. Worse, he swallowed them. At one point he collapsed with severe stomach pain and was hospitalized. The doctors who treated him said that the boy could have died.

Despite professional medical opinion, the West Bromwich school stood by Decca and supported the organization’s decision not to inform parents that kids as young as 12 were being given up to 105 pieces of nicotine gum. The policy upset more people than just the parents. Other anti-smoking organizations also slammed the school and Decca as irresponsible.

5Police Photograph Passed Out Users

This entry is not about a strange new drug, but a rising trend among those who abuse opioids—and what the police do when they find them. Opioid abuse is so rampant in the United States that officials are encountering more people driving under the influence—and passing out—in their cars. Worse, most of them have a young child in the vehicle with them.

In an effort to highlight this dangerous and tragic turn of the opioid epidemic, police are now taking photographs of unconscious addicts, in the position that they found them. The images are made public to awareness of the growing problem.

In 2016, Erica Hurt overdosed while driving with her baby in the back seat. When the police in Indiana found her, she was unresponsive. The 10-month-old boy was crying but he was unharmed. The image shows the young mother still holding the syringe she injected herself with. A month earlier, another shocking photo showed an unconscious couple who overdosed in Ohio while driving with a 4-year-old in the back. Rhonda Pasek and James Acord were both charged with child endangerment—but not before the police took a few snaps.

4The Fatal Wii Challenge

In 2007, employees at Radiological Associates of Sacramento joined a challenge. The competition was held by radio station KDND 107.9 and was called “Hold your wee for a Wii.” The objective was to drink as much water as possible without using the bathroom. One of the contestants was Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old mother who wanted the prize for her three kids. If she won, Strange could surprise her family with a Nintendo Wii video games system. Instead, she died.

Everyone had to drink a bottle of water every fifteen minutes. The bottles became increasingly bigger. Eventually, Strange dropped out due to a killer headache. The pain drove her to tears and she told her supervisor she was going home, which was where her body was later found.

A coroner ruled that the victim had died of a water overdose. Technically known as hyponatremia, water poisoning is triggered when too much sweating or consumption of water thins the sodium levels in the blood. Severe headaches are a tell-tale sign, but seizures, coma, and death also follow in severe cases.

3The Wasp Spray Trend

The quest for the perfect high leads to strange places. Say hello to “wasping,” a drug culture oddity in West Virginia. As quirky as it sounds, the practice is deadly. Addicts mix wasp spray with methamphetamine or abuse the insecticide as a meth substitute. To create the fake meth, they spray the liquid on hot metal sheets where it crystallizes.

In 2019, there was an uptick in overdoses from wasping. But since the trend gives a genuine high, very similar to that of meth, addicts ignore the fact that more and more people are crashing from using too much. The bug spray’s ingredients are incredibly dangerous. Some of the chemicals interfere with nerve signaling and in extreme cases can trigger seizures, paralysis, breathing problems and heart abnormalities.

2The Two-Day Overdose Bender

When emergency personnel rushes out to an overdose, they usually encounter a single patient or three. But when the first ambulance sped to a park in 2018 (many more were to follow), paramedics encountered a surreal scene.

They responded to reports that people were ill at New Haven Green park near Yale University. The symptoms suggested an overdose of some kind, and included hallucinations, breathing difficulties and blacking out. Upon arrival, a few people were in trouble. But as the medics treated one person, another would suddenly keel over. When they rushed to help the new victim, another collapsed nearby. All told, over 70 people overdosed around the first responders.

The users were floored by synthetic cannabinoids, called K2 or spice. This particular stash contained an ultrapotent chemical called fubinaca, which caused the strange event. The park overdoses continued the next day, totaling over 100 cases. The most insane part came afterward. Some of those who ended up in the hospital went straight back to the park and overdosed again.

1Mass Overdose At Homeopathic Conference

This one is for the homeopathic history books. In 2015, there was a mass overdose of delegates attending a homeopathic conference in Germany. This is the last gathering where one would expect a severe overdose since most of the products offered at the event are basically water.

Yet at one point, 29 delegates consumed something toxic. They curled on the floor in pain, became incoherent, suffered seizures, hallucinations, and delusions. When the first paramedics arrived, they were quickly overwhelmed and called for help. As a result, 160 emergency personnel descended on the conference hall, including multiple ambulances and helicopters.

Tests confirmed that the group did not ingest a homeopathic remedy. Instead, they became intoxicated with 2C-E, also known as Aquarust. This psychedelic drug was banned in Germany the year before. The question was, did they take the drug knowingly or did somebody spike a product?

Sympathy for the victims was not forthcoming. The owner of the seminar center and the German alternative medicine association distanced themselves from the incident. The latter even threatened to throw out any member who had taken the drug, implying that the victims knew what they were doing. However, narcotic experts believe otherwise. After all, those who overdosed included doctors, alternative practitioners, and homeopaths, all educated about hard drugs and active in the natural healing field. A plausible explanation is that a homeopathic hater pulled a bad joke on them.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Jana Louise Smit

Jana earns her beans as a freelance writer and author. She wrote one book on a dare and hundreds of articles. Jana loves hunting down bizarre facts of science, nature and the human mind.

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