How Does Narcan (Naloxone) Work?

Narcan, also known as naloxone, is a life-saving medication that has revolutionized the way we combat opioid addiction. With the opioid crisis gripping the nation, Narcan works as an antidote to an opioid overdose. This powerful medication has become increasingly common throughout the United States, with first responders, healthcare providers, and even everyday individuals carrying and administering Narcan.

How Does Narcan (Naloxone) Work?

When an opioid is taken, it binds to the opioid receptors in the person’s brain and spinal cord, causing them to feel less pain. But if the person takes too much, the opioids can cause their breathing to slow to dangerous levels or stop altogether. Narcan is an opioid antagonist. When used, it quickly binds to the same receptors as the opioids, reversing and blocking the effects of any opioids the individual has taken. It can rapidly reverse the effects of the overdose, allowing the person to breathe again and potentially saving their life.

Does Narcan Work on All Drugs?

Narcan does not work on all drugs. It only works on opioids. Opioids include:

  • Legally prescribed prescription pain medications, such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), Demerol, morphine, codeine, Methadone, Dilaudid, Lorcet, Norco
  • Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl
  • Heroin

Narcan does not work on other types of drugs or mixtures of drugs. For example, if a person overdoses on Vicodin (an opioid) and Diazepam (a benzodiazepine), administering Narcan will only reverse the effects of the Vicodin and not the Diazepam.

Narcan will not reverse the effects of the following types of drugs: 

  • Antihistamines, such as fexofenadine, pheniramine, and phenergan
  • Benzodiazepines (benzos) such as alprazolam, diazepam, and midazolam
  • Sedatives such as alcohol, clonazepam, estazolam, and phenobarbital
  • Stimulants such as amphetamines, methamphetamines, and cocaine

Facts About Narcan

The following information is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Opioid Overdose Prevention Tool Kit.

  1. Narcan can be administered by intranasal spray or subcutaneous (under the skin), intramuscular (into the muscle), and intravenous injection.
  2. Narcan and all other naloxone products effectively reverse opioid overdose, including those involving fentanyl.
  3. Overdoses involving large quantities of opioids or potent fentanyl may require multiple doses of Narcan.
  4. The duration of the effects of Narcan depends on the overdose symptoms, the dose, and the method of naloxone administration. Sometimes, it may be necessary to give the person more than one dose of Narcan to restore adequate breathing. 
  5. No matter how many times a person has used Narcan, they will not develop a tolerance to it.
  6. Medical professionals or pharmacists will show you how to administer Narcan.
  7. Always call 911 if a person has overdosed, even if you have Narcan.

Is There Any Risk in Using Narcan?

Using Narcan has very minimal risks associated with it. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is not a controlled medication. It has no street value. If a person uses Narcan who does not need it for an overdose, it may make them uncomfortable but will not harm them. The only exceptions would be for a person who has an allergic reaction to the medication or a woman who is nursing or pregnant.

Signs of an Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdose is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body has an excess amount of opioids, causing serious side effects and even death. Knowing the signs of opioid overdose can be life-saving. 

The person will be extremely drowsy or sleepy. Their breathing will be slowed, shallow, or weak. Their skin will appear blue or gray. The discoloration occurs because there is not enough oxygen in the body. The discoloration is especially noticeable in the lips, nails, and fingertips.

Additional signs of an opioid overdose include the following:

  1. Cold and clammy skin
  2. Difficulty walking or talking
  3. Pinpoint pupils 
  4. Dizziness and confusion
  5. Choking, gurgling, or snoring sounds

English Mountain Recovery Can Help

If you or someone you care about struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that can affect anyone. It is treatable. At English Mountain Recovery, located in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, we can help. Our skilled professionals will provide you with the care you need to regain control of your life. English Mountain Recovery offers a 12-step, gender-specific treatment program for your physical, spiritual, and emotional healing that will put you on a positive track.