addiction treatment

How to Use Narcan (Naloxone) for Overdose Treatment

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How to Use Narcan

Witnessing an overdose can be frightening. It is important to be properly equipped and know how to use Narcan when someone is experiencing a drug overdose. 

In the case of an opioid overdose, here is how you administer Narcan nasal spray:

  1. Lie the person on their back with their head tilted and supported.
  2. Hold the nasal spray and use your thumb on the bottom of the plunger and your first and middle fingers on either side of the nozzle.
  3. The nozzle should be inserted gently into one of the person’s nostrils.
  4. Press the plunger firmly with your thumb, giving the total dose of Narcan, and then remove the nasal spray from their nostril.
  5. Call 911 immediately after a Narcan dose.
  6. After administration, place the person in a recovery position on their side. This will prevent them from choking if they vomit. It is also essential to stay with the person after giving them the first Narcan dose. If they are not breathing after two to three minutes, give them a second dose but in the opposite nostril. Keep repeating doses every 2-3 minutes until the person is responsive or medical help arrives.

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History of Narcan

In 1961 a group of scientists in NY discovered Naloxone, a drug that appeared to be the antidote to opioid overdoses. At first, Naloxone was only available in an intravenous form, which meant it could only be given in a hospital setting. However, by the 1990s, medical professionals experimented with the drug until they created a nasal spray, known as Narcan. Since then, Narcan has saved over 26,000 American lives. It is now distributed across many states through the free Narcan kit programs. Research has shown that in states where naloxone access laws have been formed, a 14% decrease in overdose deaths was observed. It must be noted that Narcan is a life saving emergency measure. 

How Does Narcan Reverse an Overdose?

Scientists are not fully aware of why Narcan works to reverse opioid overdoses. However, when Naloxone enters the body, it will bind to opioid receptors preventing other opioid effects. Narcan will awaken the brain and prevent opioids from slowing down spinal cord and brain systems. One of the common effects it reverses is restricted breathing which is often fatal in overdoses.

Who Is Given Narcan?

Doctors will prescribe a dose of Narcan to patients at risk for an opioid overdose.

  • Patients who are taking high doses of opioids for chronic pain.
  • Patients who are receiving rotating opioid regimens.
  • Patients who had opioid poisoning or intoxication.
  • Patients who take extended-release or long-acting opioid medications.
  • Patients who have had a period of abstinence are at risk for relapse.

Narcan is also available to the public in many states through the free Narcan kit programs.

What Drugs Does Narcan Work On?

There are various drugs that Narcan works on, which include:.:


Does Narcan Work on Alcohol?

Narcan is only effective on opioids. Narcan does not work on alcohol and therefore can not reverse an alcohol overdose.

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How to Spot an Overdose

The symptoms and signs of an overdose can differ from person to person. However, relatives and caregivers of those taking opioids should be familiar with the signs of a possible overdose.

These are some of the symptoms an opioid overdose can include:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness
  • Faint heartbeat
  • Unusual sleepiness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tiny (pinpoint) pupils
  • Low blood pressure
  • Inability to speak
  • Limp arms and legs
  • Purple lips and fingernails
  • Pale skin

How Long Does Narcan Last? 

Narcan only lasts between 30 to 90 minutes. One may still experience the effects of the overdose when the Narcan wears off and may need more than one dose. 

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Narcan and Drug Overdose FAQs

1. How Much Narcan Should Be Given?

A Narcan dose is one spray in one nostril. It is the same for adults and infants. However, Narcan can be administered every 2-3 minutes until responsive.

2. What are Possible Side Effects of Narcan?

Below are some of the possible side effects of Narcan:

  • Headache
  • Nasal dryness
  • Nasal congestion and fluid
  • Nasal inflammation
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • Heart attack
3. Can Narcan be Abused? Are there any Risks of Narcan?

The main risk of Narcan use is that the patient may relapse into an overdose. This can occur since the opioid active remains active in the body longer than Narcan. Therefore, a patient needs to be monitored after the administration of Narcan by medical professionals. Additionally, acute withdrawal symptoms can begin immediately after Narcan administration, which can be dangerous. Especially in infants, the risk of acute withdrawal symptoms onset is higher. Therefore, professional medical help must be sought right after Narcan is given.

Acute drug abuse withdrawal symptoms can include.

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Tachycardia (fast heartbeat)
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose/sneezing
  • Goosebumps
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Shivering/trembling
  • Weakness
4. How Long Does Narcan Last?

Narcan is a short-term, emergency medication. It begins to work within 2-3 minutes after the first dose, although sometimes additional amounts are needed. It is not supposed to be used regularly or over a prolonged period.

5. Where Can I Get Narcan?

In the United States, it is possible to purchase Narcan at all major pharmacies. It is not available over the counter but can be purchased directly from a pharmacist without a prescription. It is advisable to speak to one’s doctor about having Narcan on hand if taking an opioid medication.  

6. How Does Narcan Look?

The FDA has approved three forms of Naloxone.

Narcan is the most common form since it’s easiest for families and caregivers or nonmedical personnel to administer.

7. Can You Buy Narcan Over the Counter?

Yes, the FDA has approved Narcan nasal spray and can be bought over the counter. 

How Much Does Narcan Cost?

The cost of Narcan can vary, but most insurance plans generally cover it. GoodRx also offers updated discounted prices for Narcan based on areas.

8.  Is Narcan in Place of Drug Rehab and Detox?

A common misconception about Narcan is that the effects of opioid use will be over once it is administered. However, Narcan is just the start of recovering from an opioid use disorder. It will not detox the body, which is the first step in healing. Therefore, once one has recovered from an opioid overdose, one should pursue a detox protocol and substance use treatment.

9. Is Narcan Addictive?

Narcan is not addictive at all. It has a Schedule II classification, like all opioids but does not share its addictive quality.

10. Narcan vs. Naloxone: Is There a Difference?

Naloxone is the generic name for Narcan. Although there are other brand names for naloxone, Narcan is the most commonly used name.

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Addiction Treatment and Drug Rehab After an Opioid Overdose

Although Narcan effectively reverses the immediate effects of opioid use, it does not provide long-term treatment. If the cause of the opioid overdose was opioid misuse, a person must receive drug rehab treatment to prevent future overdoses and relapses. This will usually include tapering off a substance, medication, and therapy to address addictive behaviors.  Long-term medications can be used with treatment to recover from an opioid use disorder. Inpatient rehabs as well as outpatient rehab options should be explored. At a drug treatment center, clients enter the track to addiction recovery with drug detox. Once the detox from drugs is completed, inpatient drug treatment begins. The important thing is that the condition is addressed. Addiction rehab saves lives.

Using Narcan to Save Lives

The motto of Narcan is, “Be the one before 911.” As opioid use continues to climb in the USA, with over 100,000 opioid overdoses in the past year, awareness of this medication is vital. If a loved one has a history of substance use, treatment can often begin with this medication. Keep it readily available. The hope is that with measures to fix the opioid crisis and the widespread distribution of Narcan, the rate of opioid overdoses will dramatically decline.

For continuing your or your loved one’s rehabilitation journey, find an Avenues treatment center near you

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