A Complete Guide

What is Narcan? How Does It Work? Where Can You Get It? Here's Everything You Need to Know About This Life-Saving Drug

Opioid addiction is a serious medical condition that can lead to heart problems, brain damage, lung damage, deadly overdose, and other complications.

Of the nearly 107,000 U.S. drug overdose deaths in 2021, more than three-fourths of them involved an opioid. Due to an increase in opioid prescriptions since the 1990s, the number of opioid overdose deaths involving prescriptions in 2021 was nearly five times what it was in 1999.

With the right tools and resources, opioid-related overdoses can be stopped, prevented, and even reversed. Narcan is one of these life-saving tools.

There were 5x more opioid overdose deaths in 2021 than in 1999.

What is Narcan?

Narcan is a brand-name version of the generic medication Naloxone. These medications are known as opioid antagonists, which means they can reverse and block the effects of opioids.

Narcan is used during emergency situations when a person is showing symptoms of an opioid overdose. It can restore breathing for someone whose breathing has slowed or stopped following an overdose.

Narcan only works on individuals who have opioids in their system. It is not a treatment for opioid use disorder and cannot prevent an overdose from occurring.

  • Unintentionally taking an opioid
  • Accidentally taking an extra dose
  • Deliberately misusing the opioid in a way their doctor did not prescribe
  • Using medication prescribed for someone else
  • Mixing opioids with alcohol, other prescriptions, or over-the-counter drugs that may interact with opioids.
What is Narcan Used For?

Narcan is used to quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose from both prescription opioids and synthetic opioids. Narcan uses include treatment for overdoses involving these medications:

There are multiple ways for someone to overdose on opioids. These include:

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Buprenorphine
Narcan Package
Does Narcan Work on Fentanyl?

Narcan can reverse the effects of an overdose even from stronger opioids like Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and a major contributor to today’s fatal and nonfatal overdoses.

More than 40% of counterfeit pills tested positive for Fentanyl and contained at least 2 mg of the drug, which is considered a lethal dose. Just one kilogram of Fentanyl could kill up to 500,000 people.

How Does Narcan Work?

Narcan binds with the same receptors in the brain as opioids, effectively blocking the effects of opioids on the brain. By doing this, it can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in as little as 2 to 3 minutes. This leaves more time for medical help to arrive.

Is Narcan Safe?

Narcan is safe for all ages, including infants, adolescents, and older adults. It’s not addictive, and it won’t harm someone even if they don’t have opioids in their system. For this reason, if you see symptoms of an overdose or suspect someone may have overdosed, you should always administer Narcan to be safe.

When Should Narcan Be Used?

Narcan is used during emergency situations when a person is showing symptoms of an opioid overdose. It can restore breathing for someone whose breathing has slowed or stopped following an overdose.

Their heartbeat or breathing slows or stops

They lose consciousness or go limp

Their lips turn purple or blue

They start vomiting

They make choking or gurgling sounds

They can’t speak

You aren’t able to wake them

Their pupils become really small

Their skin is cold

How Do You Administer Narcan?

Narcan and Naloxone are available in two forms approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Injectable and pre-packaged nasal spray.

Regardless of which form you use, it’s crucial to make sure you’ve been trained on how to use it properly. Always read the product instructions and check the expiration date before administering.

How to Administer Narcan Nasal Spray

Narcan nasal spray is administered by spraying the medication into the person’s nostril. The steps to administer Narcan nasal spray include the following:

  1. Remove the spray from the box and peel back the tab to open.
  2. Hold the nasal spray with your thumb on the bottom of the plunger and your first and middle fingers on each side of the nozzle.
  3. Tilt the person’s head back, supporting it with your hand.
  4. Gently insert the tip of the nozzle into one nostril until your fingers on either side are against the bottom of their nose.
  5. Press the plunger firmly to release the spray.
  6. Remove the spray from their nostril after giving the dose.
  7. If the person doesn’t respond within 3 to 5 minutes, spray another dose of Narcan. Don’t wait more than 5 minutes.

It’s important not to remove the Narcan spray from its packaging until it’s ready to use. Do not test the device by spraying it before administering it.

How to Administer Injectable Narcan

Injectable Narcan is given by injecting the medication into a muscle or underneath the person’s skin. The steps to administer this form of Narcan include the following:

  1. Take the cap off the vial and stick the needle through the rubber stopper.
  2. Draw all the fluid from the vial into the needle by pulling back on the plunger (NOTE: Make sure the needle is filling with liquid, not air).
  3. Inject the needle straight into the person’s shoulder muscle (like a flu shot) or into the front of their thigh.
  4. Push down on the plunger to empty the syringe.
  5. If the person doesn’t respond within 3 to 5 minutes, inject another dose of Narcan. Don’t wait more than 5 minutes.

What Should You Do After Administering Narcan?

For some stronger opioids like Fentanyl, you may need to administer more than one dose. The dose should be repeated if the person doesn’t respond within 3 to 5 minutes after the first dose.

When you are finished administering the necessary doses, here are the steps you should take:

Wait for emergency personnel to arrive for further assistance.

If you don’t or can't seek medical care, stay with the person for at least three hours to make sure the overdose doesn’t return, as Narcan only lasts 30 to 90 minutes. Don’t leave their side, even if they appear to be breathing properly.

When medics arrive, tell them Narcan was given.

When the individual wakes up, explain to them what happened. Tell them not to take any more drugs that could cause another overdose.

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Can Anyone Administer Narcan?

Anyone can use Narcan without medical training or authorization. It is easy to use and small to carry.

In March 2023, the FDA approved the first over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray available without a prescription. This means anyone can buy it at places like drug stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises anyone who knows someone with an opioid use disorder or who may be at high risk of an overdose to keep Naloxone on hand in case of emergency. In nearly 40% of overdose deaths, someone else was present with the person overdosing. Having Naloxone available can help bystanders prevent a fatal overdose.

The CDC relates carrying Naloxone to carrying an EpiPen for someone who has life-threatening allergies. It simply adds an extra layer of protection.

Can You Use Narcan on Yourself?

No, you cannot use Narcan on yourself due to how quickly an overdose renders the individual unconscious.

Narcan should be administered after an overdose has occurred. In most cases, the individual who overdosed will likely be unconscious or have their movement and breathing restricted.

Because you can’t administer Narcan on yourself, you should let those around you know that you have it in case you experience an overdose.

Is It Legal to Carry Narcan?

Yes, anyone can legally purchase and carry Narcan. It is available in all 50 states, and you do not need to have a substance use disorder to access it. Most states have Good Samaritan Laws that protect people from criminal penalties when they are trying to help someone who has overdosed.

Where to Get Narcan

The over-the-counter version of Narcan can be bought at certain drug stores, convenience stores, department stores, and more. A twin pack costs between $40-$50.

If you choose to buy Narcan online, make sure you are ordering directly from a reputable retailer using their website. This can help ensure you aren’t purchasing a counterfeit version.

You may also find Narcan at no cost from places like local health departments, community centers, law enforcement agencies, and libraries, depending on where you live.

Does Narcan Have Side Effects?

Because Narcan forces opioids out of someone’s system, anyone who is physically dependent on opioids will experience withdrawal symptoms from taking Narcan. This is not because of the Narcan itself but because the individual suddenly no longer has opioids in their system.

  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting

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Call us now at 866-788-8335 to speak with an educated recovery consultant and get the support you need.

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