Narcan (Naloxone) Is Saving Lives

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image by Jefferson County Public Health,

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a powerful drug that acts as an opioid antagonist and quickly reverses the effects of a heroin overdose and other opioid drugs. If administered in time, it can prevent death from overdose. Its effectiveness is so well-documented that at least seventeen states now permit naloxone to be administered by police and paramedics. Over half of those states also allow friends and family members of drug abusers to carry the drug.

What Is The Downside If This Prevents Opiate Overdoses?

There is some controversy over the wisdom of allowing third parties (non-safety or law enforcement personnel) to hold and administer this heroin overdose antidote. Critics maintain that the availability of an antidote to overdose would encourage drug use, as the danger of such use would be minimized. This may be similar to the argument that using seat belts encourages people to drive faster, as they know they are protected from injury. Proponents argue that the amount of lives saved outweighs any other considerations and government agencies are beginning to agree.

Police in the town of Quincy, Massachusetts, have used naloxone 179 times since 2010, with a 95% success rate in reversing overdoses. At least seven states have bills pending to increase access.

Accompanying issues include:

  • legal immunity for those who report overdoses, so that life-saving treatment can be administered in time
  • civil liability for those who administer the drug, so that repercussions wouldn’t be a counter-incentive to intervention
    training for over-the-counter naloxone buyers
  • Opiate overdose causes the body to fail in respiratory function. Naloxone acts as a heroin overdose antidote by blocking the receptors in the brain that opiates bind to, interfering with the effect of the opiates.

5 Things To Know About Narcan (Naloxone)

It’s no secret that the U.S. is suffering from an opioid overdose epidemic.

In fact, an average of 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC. Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled; deaths from prescription opioids have also quadrupled.

These troubling numbers have first responders scrambling to respond to an alarming amount of calls per day. One Wisconsin fire department is working to implement a regional approach between law enforcement and EMS to monitor overdoses.

Here’s an overview of what naloxone is and how responders are helping curb this devastating epidemic.

1. What is naloxone?

Naloxone, which can also be sold under the name Narcan, blocks or reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone was patented in 1961 and was approved as an injectable product (intravenous, intramuscular or subcutaneous) for opioid overdose by the FDA in 1971. It’s often included in an emergency overdose response kit and has been shown to reduce rates of deaths due to overdose.

2. How is naloxone administered?

Naloxone is injected into a muscle, which is usually given in the outer thigh, under the skin or into a vein through an IV. When given intravenously, it works within two minutes. When injected into a muscle, it works within five minutes. The injection is most likely given by health care or emergency medical providers.

A naloxone auto-injector was approved by the FDA in 2014. Naloxone can also be administered via intranasal with an atomizer or by the FDA-approved NARCAN nasal spray.


Naloxone is now being given to the public, family members and caregivers, and even addicts to administer. If a patient is not breathing or is unresponsive after a suspected overdose, give naloxone immediately by the administration route available to you.

You may need to give another dose every two to three minutes in some situations. If you are a layperson — a friend or family member — of someone who has overdosed, call 911 after administering naloxone or if naloxone is needed.

3. What are the signs of an opioid overdose?

Signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose may include slowed breathing, or no breathing at all, very small or pinpoint pupils in the eyes, a slow heartbeat or extreme drowsiness.

4. Roughly, how much does naloxone cost?

Boxed syringes cost $40-50 each — add $5 for a nasal adapter and about $15 per bag to make a naloxone administration kit. Prices for auto-injectors start at $250 and can be as much as $825 per unit. Remember to replace sealed naloxone vials every two-to-three years based on the stamped expiration date.

Naloxone, especially as an intranasal spray, may be available as an over-the-counter medication in your state. Contact your pharmacist or insurance company for nasal spray price. Naloxone is also sometimes distributed through public health programs.

5. First responders and civilians carrying naloxone

First responders, including some police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel are being trained on how to administer naloxone.

Many, though not all states, allow the drug to be sold over the counter for lay rescuers. Some school districts and restaurants have also stocked up on the overdose-reversing drug.

With the nation facing an epidemic of overdoses from heroin laced with other more dangerous drugs and the rate of those medical emergencies increasing in South Florida, the state has begun training emergency medical technicians among many other industry professionals to use the sprays.


The Haven Detox provides industry leading medical detoxification services based in West Palm Beach, Florida. We have helped stabilize and begin the recovery journies of thousands of struggling addicts and alcoholics throughout the United States of America. With a good medical detox protocol being the first step in most recovery journeys, The Haven Detox continues to provide top notch detoxification services for all of our patients and clients that come through our medical center.