During this period when parts of the nation are experiencing record high temperatures, SAMHSA is reminding everyone that these conditions can pose certain health risk to everyone – including people with mental and substance use disorders.
Exposure to excessive heat is dangerous and can lead to heatstroke which is considered a medical emergency. Heatstroke occurs when an abnormally elevated body temperature is unable to cool itself. Internal body temperatures can rise to levels that may cause irreversible brain damage and death.
Individuals with behavioral health conditions who are taking psychotropic medications or using certain substances such as illicit drugs and alcohol may be at a higher risk for heatstroke and heat-related illnesses. These medications and substances can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate heat and an individual’s awareness that their body temperature is rising.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), effective methods to prevent heat exhaustion includes drinking plenty of fluids, replacing salt and minerals that may be removed from heavy sweating, wear loose light-colored clothing, wear sunscreen, stay cool indoors with air conditioning, and monitor those at high risk.
For individuals who may be living in facilities, it is important that caretakers ensure that those individuals are well hydrated, have access to cooler areas, and have their temperature levels monitored — especially for those individuals who may be taking antipsychotic and anticholinergic medications.
For more information on how to prevent, recognize, and treat heat-related illnesses, please see the CDC’s publication, Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety. SAMHSA is partnering with the CDC to promote physical and emotional health and prevent co-morbid medical conditions for individuals with mental and substance use disorders. Please visit SAMHSA’s Wellness Initiative Web site.