What Is Narcan (Naloxone) and How Does It Work?
Used for the emergency treatment of an opioid overdose, Narcan is an opioid antagonist, reversing or blocking the effects of an opioid overdose and can be lifesaving until emergency medical care is provided. Narcan is the original brand name of naloxone, which comes in two FDA-approved forms, nasal spray, and injectable. You should always call 911 after giving a dose of naloxone.
What Is Narcan (Naloxone)?
Narcan is the name brand of naloxone. If you are a caregiver, family member, or opioid user, you’ve probably heard of it. It is an antidote to opioid overdoses, including prescription opioids and those obtained on the street, resulting in an intentional or accidental drug overdose. Naloxone/Narcan comes in two forms and can save lives in the event of a life-threatening emergency. It has minimal side effects and should be given at the first symptoms of an opioid overdose.
Where to Get Narcan
Narcan is available at all local pharmacies without an individual prescription. You can learn more here.
Narcan has several uses such as:
- Reversal of opioid effects
- Opioid overdose
- Septic shock (injections are the only effective delivery method)
Forms of Narcan
Naloxone hydrochloride is administered in two ways:
- Nasal spray is FDA approved, prepackaged, and designed for people with no formal medical training to spray in an opioid user’s nose.
- Injectable liquid is FDA approved and requires a measured dose given by needle into a vein or under the skin. This requires medical training. Emergency responders and doctors are the only ones who should use this method.
Narcan Nasal Spray
Narcan Nasal Spray is used by caregivers, family members, opioid users, and emergency medical personnel in emergencies to stop opioid overdoses. Narcan Nasal Spray is not a prescription drug –– designed to be accessible at all times and easy to use for people with no formal training in the event of an overdose. Since some opioids are more potent than others, you may need to give more than one dose. It is safe to give a second dose in the alternate nostril after a few minutes.
Nasal Spray Effects
The effects of Narcan Nasal Spray last 30 to 90 minutes and may cause the person to experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can be life-threatening. It is vital always to call 911 or seek immediate medical attention after using Narcan Nasal Spray.
How Does Narcan Work?
Narcan is an opioid antagonist and works to displace the opioid receptors in the brain to reverse the overdose abruptly. The effects of Narcan are immediate and stop the overdose from continuing or worsening.
Naloxone only works on people experiencing an opioid crisis. If you give Narcan to someone not on opioids, it will have no effect.
Signs of Opioid Overdose
Narcan needs to be given at the first symptoms of an opioid overdose.
Signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose include:
- Breathing problems, shallow or inconsistent breaths, or gasping for air
- Low blood pressure
- Faint heartbeat
- Nausea, vomiting
- Extreme drowsiness, it is difficult to awaken or keep the person awake
- Unresponsive to stimuli such as loud voices or physical touch like rubbing firmly in the middle of their chest
- Dialated pupils (the black circle in the center of your eye)
- Limp arms and legs
- Pale skin
- Purple or blue color to lips and fingertips
How to Administer Narcan
You should read and understand the directions Narcan comes with when you get it to avoid wasting time in an emergency. Ask a doctor or pharmacist about anything you do not understand. The person overdosing cannot give themselves Narcan. Another person needs to administer the medicine.
How to administer naloxone/Narcan Nasal Spray:
- After taking the nasal spray out of the box, pull off the tab with a circle to open it. DO NOT DO A TEST SPRAY. This will waste the premeasured dose.
- Lay the person overdosing on their back with their head tilted upward, support their neck with your hand or put something underneath.
- Hold the nasal spray with your pointer finger on one side of the nozzle and your middle finger on the other. Your thumb should be on the bottom of the plunger.
- Carefully and slowly slide the nozzle into the nostril until your fingers are against the bottom of their nose.
- Firmly press the plunger upward with your thumb to deliver the dose of Narcan.
- Remove the nasal spray from the nostril.
- Move the person onto their side. This is called the “recovery position.”
- If no one has called for emergency medical help, do so now and continue to check the patient.
- A second dose of Narcan can be given in the alternate nostril after two to three minutes by repeating the steps above.
- You can repeat this process until the patient responds or professional help arrives.
The average nasal dosage of Narcan for children and adults is one spray, which is 2 to 4 milligrams in one nostril. If the patient remains unresponsive, it is safe to give multiple doses, alternating nostrils, every two to three minutes.
If you have a medical history of allergic reactions, specifically you are allergic to naloxone hydrochloride, or heart problems, you should not take Narcan. People who plan to become pregnant, are carrying an unborn baby, or giving breast milk to a child in their care, should not use Narcan. You can learn more here.
Some side effects of Narcan include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Body aches
- Increased heart rate
- Runny nose
- Shivering or trembling
- Stomach cramping
- Aggressive behavior
You can report side effects to the FDA.
Getting Opioid Addiction Treatment
Opioid addiction impacts millions of Americans daily and is a long-term, chronic condition that can have lasting harmful effects. Most people need professional help to overcome opioid addiction.
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