Narcan – What is it, how does it work and are we saving lives?


what is narcan and how does it work

Throughout my career I have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing the toll that Opioids have taken on our society. Millions of lives have been destroyed and billions of dollars lost because of these substances. Without question, Opioids have become an epidemic within our society.

What is Narcan (or Naloxone)?

In 2017, 14 states saw a decrease in drug overdose deaths during the 12 month period. While there are many factors contributing to this slide, one major reason for the tapering of overdose deaths has been the increased use of Naloxone (also know as Narcan). Naloxone is a medication called an “opioid antagonist used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.” During an overdose, opioids (heroin, Percocet, morphine, etc.) suppress the central nervous system and respiratory system.

How Does Narcan (or Naloxone) Work?

Once Naloxone is administered (intramuscularly, intravenous or sprayed in the nasal passages) it reverses this process for a limited amount of time, about 20-90 minutes. This is a key factor for people to remember when they are administering Narcan. Often the person who comes out of an overdose refuses help and in many cases, wants to use again right away. This is because the opioids have been removed from the receptors and the individual is now in withdrawal. It is imperative the person who received Naloxone seeks immediate medical attention. Without such care, the potential to reenter an overdose is present.

The beauty of Naloxone is it can be easily used by untrained individuals. It can be injected intramuscularly, or sprayed in a person’s nostrils. In addition, Naloxone has absolutely no effect on someone if Opioids are not present. This is a key factor to remember. Naloxone will NOT work on other classifications of drugs including but not limited to alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, etc.

What are the benefits of Narcan (or Naloxone)?

Naloxone also has no potential for abuse. During my work in the addiction field I have seen Naloxone used on clients who otherwise might not have survived an overdose. Unfortunately, I have also seen cases where friends or family members did not have this life saving medication on hand. Thankfully, Naloxone has become more readily available and in many cases, can be purchased without a prescription at local pharmacies. I strongly urge all my clients and their family members who struggle or know someone who struggles with an Opioid addiction to always have Naloxone on hand.

A common misconception I have heard from people is that their son or daughter has been sober for months off Opioids and so they are resistant to carry the medication. This can’t be further from the truth. Most people who overdose are not first-time users, rather someone who relapses after a period of sobriety and has a long history of use. When someone stops taking Opioids their tolerance quickly reduces after a short period of time. They become highly susceptible to overdosing and think they can use a similar amount to what they used to use.

While Naloxone is not the answer to solving the Opioid epidemic, it has become a powerful tool in minimizing overdose fatalities. Hopefully through education and awareness, Naloxone will become more readily available and in the hands of those who need it.

Stats and Info taken from:

Narcan Logo taken from:

By: Ryan Hocking, LCSW