Narcan: the opiate overdose antidote

Narcan nasal spray

With opiate use skyrocketing over the last several years, overdoses are also on the rise. Prescription pain pills and heroin are at the forefront for drug-related overdoses.

CNN reported on the troubling opioid drug problem we are facing stating:

  • Heroin-related deaths increased 439% from 1999 to 2014.
  • As of 2014, heroin-related deaths had more than tripled in five years and quintupled in 10 years.
  • In 2014, opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths — 61% of all US drug overdose deaths — and 10,574 were related to heroin, in particular.
  • Data from 2014 reflects “two distinct but interrelated trends,” the CDC notes, a long-term increase in overdose deaths due to prescription opioids and a surge in illicit opioid overdose deaths, mostly related to heroin.

As an answer to this growing problem, Narcan was developed to save someone who is in an overdosed state. It began as something EMS or hospitals would administer, but the FDA approved a nasal spray version in November 2015 making it easier for the public to get their hands on.

According to an article in the New York Times, “As a virulent opioid epidemic continues to ravage the country, with 78 people in the United States dying of overdoses every day, naloxone’s use has increasingly moved out of medical settings, where it has been available since the 1970s, and into the homes and hands of the general public.”

What is Narcan?

Narcan is the brand name for Naloxone. It is considered to be an opiate antidote and is used for overdoses from opiates. Narcan comes in both a nasal spray as well as an injectable form.

How does naloxone work?

Narcan temporarily blocks the effects of drugs made from opium, which include:

  • Heroin.
  • Morphine.
  • Oxycodone.
  • Methadone.
  • Fentanyl.
  • Hydrocodone.
  • Codeine.
  • Hydromorphone.
  • Buprenorphine.

If a person has taken any of these opioids and then has Narcan administered to them, the opioids will be hindered from affecting the brain. After a person is given a dosage, they should return back to normal breathing and be able to be woken up. Narcan offers a small window of time to save a life by giving more time to call emergency help to the scene.

What does Narcan do to the body?

If a person is overdosing from an opioid, it can make their breathing slow down to a dangerous level or even stop which causes a person to become unconscious and unable to wake. Narcan is a prescription that will reverse an overdose by blocking the effect opioid have on the brain receptors.

This resolution for an overdose does not treat the overdose. Its effects only last for 30 to 90 minutes, so it is important to get medical attention immediately to avoid chances a person going unconscious or not breathing once it wears off.

What are the side effects?

Perhaps the most dangerous effect is that Narcan can send a person with opiate use disorder directly into acute withdrawal. This reaction can lead a person to run right back to the drug they were using in an effort to evade the horrible withdrawal effects they might feel.

Some people awaken back to consciousness and become violent or aggressive not understanding what has happened or where they are. This is rare, but something to be aware of.

Other side effects may include chest pain, seizures, and varied allergic reactions, which all will require further medical attention.

Getting help for opiate addiction

If you think you or someone else might have overdosed or needs Narcan, call 911 immediately.

Once a person has been stabilized, getting them into a treatment program or rapid detox for opiate addiction is highly recommended. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can help you or your loved one get sober from opiates.

This Is America On Drugs: A Visual Guide, CNN, Jen Christensen, <>, October 2016

Naloxone Saves Lives, but Is No Cure in Heroin Epidemic, New York Times, Katherine Seelye, <>, July 2016

Meet Narcan: The amazing drug that helps save overdose patients, Journal of Emergency Medical Services, Karen Barker, <>, July 2008

What Is Naloxone, Everyday Health, Frieda Wiley, <>, October 2015

Narcan: the opiate overdose antidote
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