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Naloxone (Narcan): Side Effects, Treatment for Addiction, and Availability

narcan drug

What is Naloxone (Narcan)?

Naloxone (Narcan) is an opioid antagonist that is used to reverse drug overdoses caused by opioids.1

Naloxone is frequently used in emergency situations to prevent a life-threatening opioid overdose. The medication only works if a person has opioids in their system, otherwise, it has no effect. It is also effective if a person has overdosed on opioids like heroin, hydrocodone, morphine, or oxycodone while also using sedatives or stimulants. However, naloxone will not treat overdoses caused by benzodiazepines, stimulants, cocaine, or amphetamines. Naloxone may also be prescribed by a doctor for someone who is in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) or is at risk for an opioid overdose.

Although Narcan is usually administered by emergency responders, people with minimal training on how to administer Naloxone may also do so if they have the medication readily available. It may be administered via injection or as a nasal spray, which is a more highly concentrated form of the medication.

Narcan is not a controlled substance and is considered non-addictive, as it does not cause a “high” or carry a risk for misuse or abuse. Many police officers carry this antidote with them to reverse heroin overdoses. It’s also available at Walgreens without having a prescription, so ordinary Americans can stock their medicine cabinets with it. Since the release of Narcan, countless people who might have died from a heroin overdose are still alive.

How Does Naloxone Work?

Naloxone is an FDA-approved medication that works by blocking opioid receptors in the body for a short time. By knocking the drug off the opioid receptors, Narcan reverses the overdose and allows the person to breathe. Naloxone only produces these effects if a person has opioids in their system. Otherwise, it does nothing.

How Does Naloxone (Narcan) Help Addiction Treatment?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Narcan can be helpful for certain patients receiving medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders. In these instances, good candidates for naloxone treatment include:2

  • People who take high doses of opioids for long-term chronic pain management
  • People who receiving rotating opioid medication regimens
  • People who have recently been discharged from emergency medical care after overdosing on opioids
  • People who take certain extended-release or long-acting opioid medications
  • People who are completing a mandatory opioid detox program

If a patient is enrolled in a medication-assisted program for addiction treatment, his or her doctor may also show loved ones and caregivers how to administer Narcan in the event of an overdose.

Although someone who is enrolled in addiction treatment is less likely to experience an opioid overdose than someone who is actively addicted, it can still happen. A person who is receiving MAT for a substance use disorder may overdose if he or she:

  • Accidentally takes an extra dose of opioid medication
  • Accidentally takes an opioid medication in the wrong way
  • Purposely misuses prescription opioid medication or illegal opioid drugs like heroin
  • Mixes opioid drugs with other addictive substances or alcohol
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    How to Administer Naloxone (Narcan)

    Close friends, family members, and other loved ones of someone who is in recovery or actively addicted should know the signs of opioid overdose so they can recognize if their loved one needs help. Signs of an opioid overdose may include:3

    • Pinpoint pupils
    • Extreme sleepiness
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Respiratory depression

    Narcan treatment can be administered via a single-use, single-dose nasal spray or a single-use auto-injector. Neither device requires assembly and both can be easily administered to a person while they lay on their back.

    The effects of naloxone only last between 30 and 90 minutes, so if you believe that a loved one is experiencing an opioid overdose and you have Narcan available, you should administer a single dose and call 911 for emergency medical services right away. If the person doesn’t respond to the Narcan within two to five minutes, give them another dose.

    Naloxone treatment can also cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, so if the person is awake and alert, he or she may want to use opioids again to get rid of the discomfort. If you can, try to encourage the person not to use again and seek medical help as quickly as possible.

    Can Naloxone (Narcan) Be Abused?

    Naloxone is not a controlled substance and it has no potential for abuse. It is a non-addictive prescription medication that only produces effects if the user has opioids in their system. If someone were to attempt to misuse Narcan by taking an unnecessary dose, it would not produce any effects (as long as they did not have opioids in their system).4 As a result, Narcan Addiction is not a risk.

    What Are the Side Effects of Naloxone (Narcan)?

    Narcan can produce abrupt opioid withdrawal symptoms, such as:

    • Nausea
    • Dizziness
    • Stomach pain
    • Fever
    • Chills
    • Restlessness

    Other more severe side effects of Narcan may include:

    • Seizures
    • Hallucinations
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Loss of consciousness

    What Types of Opioid Overdoses Can Naloxone (Narcan) Counteract?

    Narcan can be used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses caused by several types of opioid drugs, including:

    Where Can You Get Naloxone (Narcan)?

    Since there is no risk of developing a Narcan addiction, it’s relatively easy to get. You can purchase Narcan from any major pharmacy chain, such as CVS or Walgreens without a prescription from a doctor. It is also covered by most insurance plans.5

    Get Help for Opioid Addiction

    It may sound like Narcan is the answer we have been waiting for, but the lifesaving medication is not a cure. When Narcan’s job is done and the heroin overdose is reversed, the individual is still left with the disease of addiction, the cravings, and the obsession with drugs. Without proper heroin addiction treatment, they are likely to keep feeding their habit, which puts them at risk of another overdose. Those who overdose have to rely on emergency personal or a good samaritan carrying the anti-reversal drug to live. However, if it’s not given in time, the overdose could be fatal.  

    Many drug abusers feel a moment of clarity after being revived with Narcan treatment and want to seek help for their addiction. Sometimes they’re given a list of heroin addiction treatment centers, but without insurance, treatment can be difficult to get into. Thus, the hopes for recovery are often diminished and they go back to what they know: heroin. 

    Heroin users find the drug to be a cheaper and more potent alternative to prescription medication. The recent CDC guidelines addressing doctors to prescribe long-term opiate pain medication as a last resort is showing a decline in written prescriptions. Although the written prescriptions are down, the deaths of opioid addicts are still happening. American policymakers are not addressing the actual problem: the addiction itself for those already addicted. 

    The statistic of individuals who enter treatment after being saved by Narcan is unknown and many addicts are returning customers to the drug Narcan, even after being handed treatment options. The problem is the disease of addiction. Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. It is often mistaken that drug addicts lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. 

    In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because heroin changes the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so. 

    Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug-seeking and drug use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual. Sometimes, even an almost fatal overdose is not enough to get an addict to just say “no”. Unless heroin addiction treatment is immediately available directly after the moment of “clarity” that many addicts have after waking up from an overdose, they may never commit to treatment if the timeline is too long. State-funded heroin addiction treatment in Texas is hard to find, as many of the beds are taken. Most often, private heroin addiction treatment centers are the best option because they provide immediate access to treatment in under 24 hours and offer alternative payment methods if the individual doesn’t have insurance.

    Here at Nova Recovery Center, we can provide you with heroin addiction treatment in Texas. Our 90-day inpatient drug and alcohol rehab is staffed with qualified counselors and recovery specialists who work hard to help individuals heal from addiction. We use research-based and evidence-based treatment methods to provide holistic, well-rounded treatment that fosters lasting change and sobriety.

    If you or a loved one depends on Narcan treatment to continue misusing opioids, an addiction treatment program can help you overcome your addiction and start living a drug-free life. We can help you start over with an individualized treatment program and recovery support services. Call (512) 605-2955 to get started today.

    References:

    1. https://www.drugs.com/naloxone.html
    2. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/naloxone
    3. https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/information-sheet/en/
    4. https://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/understanding-naloxone/
    5. https://www.narcan.com/patients/how-to-get-narcan/

    Nova Recovery Center offers a large range of substance abuse treatment services: detox, residential, outpatient and sober living.

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