What Is Narcan?

Posted by Joe Gilmore on May 21, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Narcan has been receiving a lot of spotlight time recently as the opioid crisis worsens, but what is Narcan? Simply put, Narcan is the first FDA-approved nasal form of naloxone for the treatment of someone who is suspected of overdosing on opioids. Narcan requires no assembly and is sprayed into one nostril while patients lay on their back.


Once Narcan is used on a patient who is going through an opioid overdose, it will reverse the sedative effects of the drug and restore the individual to a natural breathing rhythm.


Narcan and Naloxone

A naloxone injection. Naloxone, also known as narcan, can help individuals from overdosing.Mark OniffreyNaloxone 2 (cropped)CC BY-SA 4.0

Naloxone hydrochloride is an opioid antagonist and a medication that is designed to rapidly reverse and stop the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose. Narcan is a specific brand of naloxone that comes in the form of a nasal spray. An opioid antagonist means that it will bind to opioid receptors and reverse and block the effects of other opioids. It will quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing rate has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing on and opioids prescription or heroin. The medicine can also reverse the sedative effects and unconsciousness that are common during opioid overdoses


The medicine has no effect on people who have overdosed on something other than opioid medicines. Common examples of opioids include morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and more.


Naloxone is an extremely safe medication that only has a noticeable effect on individuals who have opioids in their system. Individuals who are given naloxone should be observed constantly until emergency care services arrive and by medically supervised for at least two hours after the medication is administered.

According to Surgeon General Jerome Adams, naloxone is effective at reversing the effects of

an opioid overdose.


“Expanding the awareness and availability of this medication is a key part of the public health response to the opioid epidemic. Naloxone is a safe antidote to a suspected overdose and, when given the time, can save a life.”


It should be noted that there are a number of side effects associated with Narcan and naloxone. Some people will even experience sudden opioid withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:


  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness and more


First Generic Nasal Spray

On April 19, 2019, the FDA approved the first generic naloxone nasal spray to treat opioid overdose.


“In the wake of the opioid crisis, a number of efforts are underway to make this emergency overdose reversal treatment more readily available and more accessible. In addition to this approval of the first generic naloxone nasal spray, moving forward we will prioritize our review of generic drug applications for naloxone,” an FDA statement said.


In the statement, the FDA also expressed its intent to promote competition and reduce drug prices by improving access to safe and effective generic medicines for all types of ailments.


The new FDA generic naloxone nasal spray was developed by Teva Pharmaceuticals and received initial approval in June 2018.


Identifying an Opioid Overdose Emergency

An individual with small pupils. Small pupils is a sign of a potential overdose that can be reversed with narcan.

About every 12 minutes someone overdoses on opioids. These overdoses can happen at any time and can even occur when opioids are used as directed but are especially prevalent when taken at higher doses with other substances.


Overdoses happen when the body has been overloaded with medication or illicit drug. Because they affect the part of the brain that controls breathing, if opioid levels are too high it can cause breathing to slow down to dangerous levels and can even result in death.


Common signs and symptoms of opioid overdose include:


  • Unusual sleepiness or unresponsiveness
  • Slow breathing
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Tiny pupils
  • Blue lips and nails


Some people are at a higher risk than others for opioid overdoses. For example, those taking higher doses or those taking opioids in combination with other medications or alcohol are at a much higher risk of overdose. Others who may also be at higher risk include:


  • People with medication conditions like depression or HIV
  • Household members of people in possession of opioids
  • Those with a history of substance abuse
  • People with reduced tolerance following detoxification or incarceration


Overall, anyone who uses opioids for long-term chronic pain, as well as illicit opioids or misuse prescriptions, are at risk for an overdose.


How To Administer Narcan

Narcan was developed to be used at home without the need for medical training. It was made for anyone to use and if you suspect that someone has overdosed on opioids, you may need to administer Narcan. To administer Narcan remove the packaging for the device and hold it with your thumb on the bottom the plunger and two fingers on the nozzle. Then, place and hold the tip of the nozzle in either nostril and press the plunger to release the dose into the patient’s nose. If breathing does not return to normal after two to three minutes, give the person an additional dose of Narcan in the other nostril using a new device.


It should be noted that Narcan is not a substitute for medical care and that you should always call emergency services as soon as possible, even if the person wakes up and becomes conscious again.


CVS Pharmacies has a guide for responding to an overdose with naloxone on its website:


1. Identify The Overdose Opioids will suppress the body’s breathing. If you notice this, try calling the person’s name or rubbing your knuckles on their chest, if there is no response, the person may be experiencing an overdose.


2. Call 911 It is important to get professional help as soon as possible. Make sure to call 9-1-1 and give a clear address and location. Tell the operator that the person is unresponsive and not breathing or having difficulty breathing.


3. Give Rescue Breaths Giving a person who is experiencing an overdose basic CPR can be an effective way to deal with the situation. Be sure that nothing is in the person’s mouth that is blocking breathing, place one hand on the person’s chin and tilt the head back and pinch their nose, administer two slow breaths and look for the person’s chest to rise.


4. Give Naloxone It is best to follow the specific instructions set out on the form of naloxone that you have. Following administering naloxone, continue to give rescue breaths, one breath every five seconds.


5. Wait For Help Stay with the person, even if their breathing returns to normal. Wait until paramedics arrive.


Where Can I Get Naloxone?

A woman walking and thinking where she can get narcan

Not too long ago, naloxone was only available with a doctor’s prescription. However, recently every state in the country has loosened the regulations around naloxone, making it easier to obtain the medicine. In fact, from 2010 to 2014, access to naloxone increased dramatically. Specifically, between those years the number of local sites providing naloxone more than tripled and there were more than 2.5 times the number of overdose reversals reported.


Generally, doctors write blanket prescriptions for pharmacies. By doing this, pharmacies are able to provide Narcan and naloxone to anyone who comes in to ask for it. Similarly, Narcan is covered under most insurance plans. In fact, 97 percent of U.S. insured lives have access to Narcan nasal spray.


Can Narcan Be Abused?

Narcan and naloxone do not have abuse potential and is not addictive. Narcan and naloxone is a life-saving drug. Opioids cause euphoric and sedative highs, if Narcan is used the drug will reverse that high and stop the effects of the opioid drug which, sometimes, will put a person in a state of withdrawal. It is not possible to overdose on Narcan and, again, if someone were to take it with no opioids in their system, it would have no effect at all.


Naloxone is safe, there is no evidence of significant adverse reactions. Administering naloxone may cause withdrawal symptoms if the person is dependent on opioids. These withdrawal problems will be uncomfortable but will not be life-threatening. The benefits of using Narcan or naloxone greatly outweigh the potential consequences.


Narcan Statistics

Narcan is effective. It will quickly restore a person’s breathing to normal and can save their life. Case studies have shown just how effective it can be, a naloxone distribution program in Massachusetts was effective in reducing opioid overdoses by 11 percent.


More broadly, from 1996 to 2014, at least 26,500 opioid overdoses in the United States were reversed using naloxone.


The need for Narcan may be the reason that medicine has been used more frequently over the past few decades. In recent years, the United States has been facing a drug epidemic that has caused some to call for a state of emergency. The drug epidemic, fueled by opioids, has led to the death of tens of thousands of people.


In fact, just in 2017, there were over 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the country. This means that more Americans died in one year due to drugs than during the Vietnam War. This is just one year, if you take a step back and look at overdose deaths over the past 18 years, you will find that more died from the drug epidemic than in World War I, The Vietnam War, and the Korean War combined.


As the opioid crisis has grown, so has Narcan and naloxone administrations. While there is still more work to be done to make this medicine more widely available, it has still helped save the lives of thousands of individuals.


Expanded Access

A study found that fatal poisonings, a majority of which were drug overdoses, have increased by nearly 600 percent over the past three decades. In the past few years, federal and state legislators have worked to expand the access to naloxone to first responders including EMTs and police officers.


In fact, a study in one large county found that by giving EMTs access to naloxone would reduce the time of delivery of the medicine by nearly half. This case study found that police officers and firefighters who participated in the naloxone program were associated with reduced overdose deaths.



A man looking over at nature. He has recieved narcan.

Narcan and naloxone can be effective in treating an overdose but is not approved to treat opioid addiction or dependency. For treatment for opioids, or other substances, it is best to seek out the help of a rehabilitation facility.


Drug and alcohol treatment centers can offer patients access to medically assisted detoxification to help patients safely deal with the side effects and withdrawal symptoms associated with short-term sobriety. Following detoxification, patients will go through individual and group therapy sessions as they learn more about addiction and how to prevent relapses.


Following discharge from a residential facility, many patients choose to continue treatment through an outpatient facility that will help them continue down their individual care path as they adjust to an independent, sober life.


Overall, treatment is an option that should be taken very seriously when you or your loved one suffers from an opioid overdose. Treatment, while not always successful, can help open someone’s eyes to the damage that is being done not only to them but to their entire social network.


Next Steps

Narcan and naloxone can be life-saving medicine, it can be used to reverse an opioid overdose and restore someone’s respiratory problems to normal. While problems can arise following the administration of naloxone, such as the onset of withdrawal symptoms, these are nothing compared to the life-threatening consequences of an overdose. Surviving an overdose can be a traumatic experience and some will look to start living a sober life after this happens. However, many will not know where to begin.


Landmark Recovery is a drug and alcohol treatment center that is dedicated to helping as many people as possible. Our treatment facilities offer patients medically assisted detoxification, inpatient treatment, and an intensive outpatient program that can help after discharge. If you are interested in learning more about a personalized treatment plan, please visit our website and reach out to our admissions staff today. 


Learn How To Live Life Addiction FREE CALL US TODAY AT 317-325-8331


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