“Narcan” is the brand name for “naloxone,” a medication that was first developed in 1961 and is now widely used to treat people who overdose on opioids. Narcan was not in fact approved by the FDA to counteract opioid overdoses until 1971. Since then, the drug has prevented millions of people from succumbing to opioid overdose. Today the World Health Organization includes naloxone on its “List of Essential Medicines” that are necessary to the health of people worldwide.
Narcan is primarily administered as a nasal spray by physicians, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and law enforcement who respond to overdose emergencies. Signs of an opioid overdose can include:
- Slow, absent or irregular breathing and pulse
- Extreme sleepiness or unresponsiveness to shaking or being given direct commands
- Low blood pressure/shock
- Purple or blue lips or fingernails
- Nonreactive or “pinpoint” pupils
Within seconds of nasal administration, the drug begins counteracting the effects of heroin and other opioids. The drug’s counteractive effects only last about 90 minutes, so getting someone who has been given Narcan to the hospital is critical to ensuring that they receive proper medical care.
Where Can You Get Narcan?
In Florida and other states, Narcan is available at public health organizations dedicated to helping people with substance use disorders. PHOs may also offer free Narcan kits to family members and friends of people with opiate addiction. Walgreens and CVS pharmacies are providing coupons to people without health insurance to defray the cost of Narcan.
Can Anyone Purchase Narcan?
According to the official website for NARCAN®, any U.S. citizen over 18 can buy Narcan from pharmacists without a prescription. The website provides a downloadable “prescription request aid” form that you can give to a pharmacist when you need to buy Narcan nasal spray.
Makers of Narcan ADAPT Pharma state they have collaborated with insurance companies (including Medicaid) and pharmacies to make sure Narcan is affordable for anyone in need of the medication.
People with health insurance will have co-pay amounts ranging from $0 to $20 when buying Narcan. ADAPT Pharma recommends contacting one’s insurance provider to learn more about the co-pays.
Who Typically Carries Narcan or Has Quick Access to Narcan?
Physicians, nurses, EMTs, police officers, hospitals, and drug rehab centers carry Narcan nasal spray. Drug addiction counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists may also have immediate access to Narcan.
Who May Want to Have Narcan?
If you have a family member or friend in outpatient drug rehab or are trying to get someone with an opiate addiction into treatment, consider buying several Narcan nasal sprays from your local pharmacy to keep on hand. Be mindful, too, that people can be at risk of relapse after completing a drug rehab treatment program. If you are living with someone in recovery from opiate addiction, keep Narcan nasal spray in a safe place where you can access it quickly if you need it.
How Does Narcan Work to Counteract an Opioid Overdose?
Narcan reverses the effects of all opioids, including morphine, heroin, hydrocodone, codeine, and even methadone. By targeting opioid receptors as an antagonist, Narcan essentially ejects opioid molecules off receptors to reverse signs of an overdose.
If you give Narcan to someone who is not overdosing on opioids, nothing pharmacological will happen. For example, if a non-drug user receives a dose of Narcan, or if someone high on a different type of drug such as a stimulant takes Narcan, they won’t feel any different. Narcan does not cause side effects in those who are not overdosing on opioids.
Narcan is also very safe to take: It will not harm people who need it or people who may not need it.
All U.S. states passed statutes regulating expanded access to Narcan. Many states also have enacted “Good Samaritan” guidelines that protect anyone giving Narcon to someone presenting opioid overdose symptoms.
In addition to Narcan nasal spray, the FDA has approved two other forms of Narcan:
Healthcare professionals must be trained to give generic brands of naloxone injectable vials. The FDA’s Orange Book lists companies that provide injectable naloxone. In addition to reversing an opioid overdose, naloxone injections are often used post-surgery to expedite the reversal of opiates given to patients during the surgery. Babies born to mothers with opioids in their system also benefit from receiving naloxone injections at birth.
Pre-filled, auto-injectable naloxone is available to emergency healthcare workers and family members. Once activated, the device tells the user how to deliver the drug as an injection into the thigh.
Naloxone in Opioid Addiction Medications
Suboxone® Film contains naloxone and buprenorphine and is used to treat opioid addictions. Buprenorphine, the primary ingredient in Suboxone®, suppresses cravings and withdrawal symptoms by attaching to the same opioid receptors targeted by heroin and prescription pain pills. Consequently, if an addict uses heroin or pain killers while taking Suboxone®, they will not feel that anticipated opioid “high” because the medication is blocking receptors.
Naloxone complements buprenorphine by preventing misuse of Suboxone®. If an addict does not place Suboxone® film under their tongue as directed, the naloxone causes them to suffer withdrawal symptoms.
Vivitrol® is an injectable anti-addictive medication used to treat alcoholism and prevent relapse following opioid detoxification.It is considered a long-term option for addiction treatment or a type of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). The active ingredient in Vivitrol® is naltrexone, a chemical that blocks opioid receptors involved in opioid and alcohol addiction. Naltrexone also modulates the dopaminergic mesolimbic pathway, (the brain’s pleasure/reward center), a system of interconnecting neurons implicated in substance and behavioral addictions.
The latest statistics on Narcan from The National Institute on Drug Abuse speak to the drug’s effectiveness at reducing overdose fatalities:
- A Narcan distribution program established in Massachusetts successfully reduced deaths caused by opioid overdose by 11 percent. Nineteen cities and other communities implemented this program and experienced positive results.
- National studies show that allowing anyone to get free Narcan or Narcan at reduced costs decreased overdose deaths attributed to opioids by 14 percent.
- Statistical modeling assessments suggest that continuing to make it easier for people to get Narcan will result in the prevention of thousands of potential overdose deaths in the U.S..
Addiction is a Treatable Chronic Disease
Addiction can be successfully managed like other chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. In fact, relapsing on heroin or prescription painkillers is not that different from the way many people with diabetes or asthma “relapse” by not taking their medications or indulging in unhealthy lifestyle choices. When someone in recovery relapses, this does not mean they have “failed” or weren’t sincere in their efforts to recover. In actuality, they may only need to adjust their plan of treatment and/or medication regimen, so they can better manage their disease.
Call FHE Health today if someone you know needs help overcoming opiate addiction.