Narcan & Addiction

Narcan Addiction Hotline

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A light in the darkness of the opioid epidemic, Narcan revives people who overdose on opioids. Narcan is the brand name, nasal spray form of naloxone, an opiate antagonist. In the event of an overdose (or possible overdose), Narcan can be administered immediately, and reverses the overdose by blocking the brain’s opioid receptors.

The drug isn’t a new remedy for overdose, as it has been used in emergency rooms and by first responders for years, but the number of Narcan prescriptions written has skyrocketed in the past few years. Narcan is now carried by police, EMTs and civilians alike as the U.S. opioid epidemic claims lives at an unprecedented pace. Narcan may not be the answer to ending the epidemic, but the drug is needed now more than ever.

Narcan Generic Name
In an effort to learn more about this life-saving drug that could aid their loved ones facing opioid addiction, thousands of people search online for “what is Narcan?” Narcan is the brand name of a medication (naloxone) that is used to reverse an opioid overdose. The drug can be injected intravenously by a medical professional, but the drug’s more common form is a nasal spray. It can treat a definite, or suspected, overdose, when the person seems to be having breathing problems, is unresponsive or isn’t breathing at all. Narcan essentially revives someone who is in the throes of an overdose by blocking the effects of opioids in the brain. However, the drug cannot substitute for medical help, and 911 should be called immediately, even if Narcan is used. What Should I Do If Someone Is Overdosing on Opioids? If you suspect someone is overdosing on opioids, first check their responsiveness. This can include shaking the person gently or shouting. You should then check to see if they’re breathing. If you carry Narcan, go ahead and administer one dose in one of their nostrils and call 911 immediately. Continue to monitor the person until medical assistance arrives.
When an overdose renders someone unconscious, Narcan can’t be administered by the person who has taken opioids. Instead, the drug must be administered by a family member, friend or a bystander. For this reason, it’s important for the loved ones of people who are addicted to opioids to have a script for Narcan nasal spray in case of emergency. The Narcan dosage guide includes information like:
  • Administer one spray in one nostril: Every Narcan dose contains 2 mg or 4 mg of naloxone hydrochloride, which is usually enough to revive someone once. One spray in one nostril is the initial recommended Narcan dosage. It’s important to remember that each Narcan nasal spray contains only one dose. It must be sprayed once in the nostril, then discarded.
  • Administer Narcan as soon as possible: The longer someone experiences depression of the respiratory system, the more likely they are to suffer severe damage to their central nervous system.
  • Call 911 immediately: Narcan can revive someone who has overdosed, but it cannot substitute for emergency services.
  • Readministration may be necessary: According to the Narcan dosage guide, each nasal spray has one dose of naloxone that can’t be reused, so a person should use a new nasal spray every two to three minutes if there is no response. If the person seems to respond momentarily but then falls unconscious again, Narcan should also be readministered. If multiple doses are required, Narcan should be given in an alternating nostril each time it’s administered.
There are two primary ways that Narcan can be administered: as an intramuscular injection in the thigh or arm, or as a nasal spray. The former method must be done by a medical professional, but anyone can give someone a life-saving dose of Narcan nasal spray. Narcan is most commonly administered in the form of a nasal spray that contains either 2 mg or 4 mg of naloxone hydrochloride. Each nasal spray contains a single dose of Narcan, and the entire dose must be used — it’s not possible to use half of one dispenser and save the other half. If one dose of Narcan is administered and the individual is still unresponsive, new Narcan doses may be given every three minutes, in alternating nostrils. If repeated doses of Narcan are given, multiple nasal dispensers will be necessary. If someone awakes from an overdose only to become unresponsive again, more Narcan doses may be administered. However, it’s important to note that repeated doses of the drug cannot take the place of emergency care. If someone overdoses on opioids, it’s essential to call 911 immediately, no matter how many Narcan doses are administered.
What is Narcan?
If someone needs to use Narcan, addiction to opioids is likely an issue they face. Narcan (naloxone) is an opioid antagonist that can be used to partially or completely revive someone from an opioid overdose. The drug works to reverse the respiratory depression that people experience with an opioid overdose, and in some cases, it can help regulate blood pressure if someone is in septic shock. Narcan can only block the effects of an overdose that involves opioid medications, such as one from heroin, oxycodone or hydrocodone. The drug will not revive someone who has overdosed on cocaine, crystal meth, Xanax or other non-opioid substances. Because Narcan instantly reverses the effects (euphoric and otherwise) of opioids, the drug cannot be used to get high. For this reason, Narcan addiction is not possible.
When someone overdoses on opioids, their respiratory system can shut down, rendering them unconscious. This can lead to coma and death if Narcan is not used to revive the individual. Narcan works by taking the place of opioids in the brain’s opioid receptors. As an opioid antagonist, Narcan reverses the effects of opioids, namely an overdose. Once someone is given Narcan, they should regain consciousness and start breathing normally again, but it’s essential that they are given Narcan as soon as possible after an overdose to avoid brain damage.
Narcan should be administered right away after a suspected or known overdose, and medical help should be sought immediately as well. Signs someone is overdosing on opioids and needs to be revived with Narcan include:
  • Unconsciousness or unusual sleepiness
  • Breathing problems like slow or shallow breathing or loss of breath
  • Pinpoint pupils or very small pupils
Other important considerations about Narcan use include:
  • Call 911 immediately if someone is overdosing, even if they have been revived with Narcan.
  • Narcan use reverses opioid overdoses and causes instant and severe withdrawal symptoms as a result. For this reason, it is critical to seek medical care immediately.
  • Narcan will not reverse overdoses from non-opioid drugs.
  • Certain people may not be able to use Narcan if they have allergies to ingredients that include benzalkonium chloride, sodium chloride or hydrochloric acid.
  • A person does not need to be breathing in order for Narcan to be administered to them.
According to the Narcan dosage guide, this drug can be used for children, but they must continue to be monitored because naloxone is metabolized differently in children. Infants under four weeks old may also be exposed to opioids, as is the case with neonatal abstinence syndrome. The sudden opioid withdrawal symptoms that come with Narcan use can be life-threatening for newborn babies, so immediate medical attention should be sought after giving a dose of Narcan to an infant.
Narcan can revive someone who has overdosed on opioids.
Narcan has been shown to stay in the body for up to two hours. In adults, the half-life of Narcan ranges from around 30–80 minutes after it is metabolized by the liver. This time frame is generally shorter than that of other opioids. Regardless of how long Narcan stays in someone’s system, the drug serves to reverse an overdose, not cure an opioid addiction. Narcan can revive someone who has overdosed on opioids, but if that person does not seek treatment afterward, they will likely return to opioid use, creating a vicious cycle. For this reason, it’s imperative to seek effective opioid addiction treatment after being revived with Narcan.
Narcan is highly beneficial for people who struggle with opioid addictions, and the drug saves countless lives in the United States, and beyond, each year. However, when someone is revived with Narcan, addiction symptoms — primarily withdrawal symptoms — are unavoidable. In order to reverse an overdose, Narcan cancels out the effects of opioid drugs. While it is necessary to save someone’s life, Narcan plunges the body into immediate withdrawal. Common side effects of Narcan use mirror those of severe opioid withdrawal, and include:
  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • A runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Weakness
Minor side effects of using Narcan nasal spray can include a headache, nasal dryness, nasal congestion, and nasal inflammation. The primary side effect of Narcan is that it can precipitate the onset of acute opioid withdrawal syndrome. However, some medical professionals believe a 2 mg dosage of Narcan might prevent the onset of severe opioid withdrawal in people who are opioid dependent. In contrast, a 2 mg dosage of the drug might not be sufficient for someone who takes a high dosage of opioids. Narcan can sometimes be used following surgery to reverse opioid respiratory depression. In these situations, the side effects of Narcan can be similar to the ones named above but can also include severe side effects like tachycardia, hypotension, hypertension, seizures, and cardiac arrest. These Narcan side effects are most likely to occur in patients who have pre-existing cardiac conditions.
Narcan and generic naloxone are life-saving drugs that reverse the effects of opioid overdoses and situations where someone can die if Narcan is not administered. As such, Narcan is a last-resort measure to treat opioid addiction. Unfortunately, even after being administered Narcan, people will continue to use opioids. Some people will even use them right after an overdose, just to escape the debilitating withdrawal symptoms that come from being revived with Narcan. In theory, people who misuse opioids may also engage in Narcan abuse, relying on the drug to bring them back from the brink of death if they overdose.
Narcan has no abuse potential. In fact, Narcan (naloxone) is cited on the World Health Organization’s Lists of Essential Medicines because it’s one of the safest and most effective medicines available in a healthcare system. Narcan is a life-saving drug, but the way in which it revives people is not pleasant or comfortable. Opioids are painkillers that cause a euphoric high — Narcan reverses that high, and an overdose, instantly. The drug immediately stops the effects of any opioid drug (namely overdose), and plunges the body into a state of withdrawal. Because it’s not possible to overdose on Narcan, if someone were to take it with no opioids present in their system there would be no effect.
On its own, Narcan cannot be misused. The drug reverses opioid overdoses, therefore it cannot be used to get high, much less be addictive itself. However, when Narcan is used, it triggers the symptoms and side effects of opioid withdrawal, which can include:
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
While Narcan and naloxone are not addictive, some statistics surrounding their use include:
  • In the United States, at least 26,500 overdoses were reversed with naloxone from 1996 to 2014.
  • More than 150,000 people outside of the medical profession received naloxone training in 2014.
  • In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the number of civilians trained on administering naloxone has risen 187 percent since 2010.
  • Between 2013 and 2015, nearly 94 percent of people given Narcan survived opioid overdose, according to EMT data from Massachusetts.
In theory, the people most likely to abuse and overuse Narcan are those who are addicted to opioids and reliant on the drug to revive them in the case of an overdose. However, this situation is not commonly reported as Narcan use is extremely unpleasant for someone who is otherwise dependent on opioids. To revive someone who is unresponsive due to an overdose, Naran causes immediate and severe withdrawal symptoms which often require medical assistance to overcome. Narcan cannot be abused, much less be the subject of an addiction.
Side effects of Narcan use mirror those of opioid withdrawal. Symptoms can be both physical and psychological, and can range from mild to severe. The primary side effect of Narcan is the fact that it can lead to acute withdrawal syndromes in people who are opioid-dependent. The five most commonly reported side effects of Narcan use include body aches, diarrhea, increased heart rate, fever and a runny nose. These symptoms are all relatively mild, and they are not the only symptoms someone can experience from Narcan use. That’s why it’s imperative to seek immediate medical attention after using Narcan.
Because severe side effects of Narcan use may require medical assistance to alleviate, calling 911 is imperative after administering the drug to someone. Severe side effects can include increased blood pressure and heart rate as well as seizures. However, the possibility of these side effects should not stop anyone from administering Narcan to someone who is overdosing. If you suspect an opioid overdose in a friend or family member, don’t hesitate to give them a dose of Narcan. Even after an initial dose, the person may need more Narcan or naloxone if:
  • They start vomiting or making choking sounds
  • Their lips or fingernails appear blue
  • Their breathing or heartbeat slows or stops
  • They’re unable to speak
  • They can’t be roused from sleep
At this point, call 911 and stay on the line with the operator for further instructions. While you’re on the phone with 911, they will often provide instructions for how to perform rescue breathing while you wait for help to arrive.
Severe side effects of Narcan
Narcan abuse won’t end an addiction to opioids. If you or someone you know takes too many doses of Narcan as a result of repeated opioid misuse, help is available. Don’t continue to rely on Narcan for revival — find real treatment to help you leave opioid addiction behind. The Recovery Village provides compassionate, effective drug and alcohol rehab at centers across the country, so you’re never too far from the care you deserve. To find a facility near you and get started with opioid addiction treatment, call The Recovery Village today at 352.771.2700. The telephone call is toll-free and completely confidential.
Narcan & Addiction
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