Understanding Narcan: A Lifeline in Crisis Situations

Narcan, known scientifically as naloxone, is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It is an emergency antidote that, when administered during an opioid overdose, can save lives. Whether you are living with someone who uses opioids or you are personally facing addiction, knowing what Narcan is and how it can help in a moment of crisis is important and can be the difference between life and death. It can also serve as an initial step toward seeking further help and start the road to recovery.

What Is Narcan?

Narcan is a medication that acts by temporarily blocking the effects of opioids in the brain, allowing a person to breathe normally and regain consciousness. Narcan is available in several forms, including nasal sprays and injections, making it user-friendly and accessible for non-medical individuals to administer in urgent situations.

Nasal Spray Narcan

The most commonly used type of Narcan comes in the form of a nasal spray that is pre-filled and assembled and doesn’t require the use of needles. People experiencing opioid overdoses would receive the Narcan nasal spray in their nostrils while they’re on their backs. Narcan nasal spray was also designed for family, friends, and caregivers who have no medical training to be able to use it. People can purchase Narcan nasal spray at any pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. Under a statewide order, in every state, residents can purchase Narcan nasal spray from a local pharmacist. This drug is an important tool in the fight against opioid abuse and overdoses.

Injectable/Intravenous Narcan

The injectable form of naloxone should only be given by professionals trained in its use. Emergency kits used by first responders often include injectable naloxone. The auto-injectable naloxone product is delivered to the outer thigh. The product provides verbal instructions when activated, letting the person administering the medication know what to do when using it. There is a brand-name auto-injectable Naloxone product called EVZIO, which can be used by emergency responders and family members or loved ones of someone who is overdosing. This form of Narcan is also used in a medical setting intravenously for surgeries.

The decision on which form of naloxone to use or carry can depend on many factors such as cost, availability, and comfort level. But it’s important to understand that Narcan is not a cure for opioid addiction, nor does it claim to be. Its primary role is to save lives by reversing the effects of opiates during an overdose, which positions it as a critical life-saving tool.

What Does Narcan Do?

Narcan works by attaching itself to the same parts of the brain that opioids use to exert their effects. By displacing the opioids, it reverses the suppression of breathing and other critical functions controlled by the central nervous system. Its rapid action is crucial during an overdose, as opioids can lead to fatal respiratory depression. Narcan effectively restores normal breathing and consciousness within minutes, although the exact response time can vary based on the severity of the overdose and the opioid involved.

Consider a typical scenario: a person accidentally overdoses on prescription painkillers at home. Family members or friends discover the individual unresponsive and struggling to breathe. With Narcan on hand, they can administer the medication while waiting for emergency services to arrive. Another scenario might involve first responders arriving at the scene of a suspected opioid overdose. Police officers or emergency medical technicians can use Narcan to stabilize the individual until further medical treatment can be administered.

These examples underscore the importance of having Narcan accessible not only in healthcare settings but also in homes where opioids are present, whether for medical or recreational use. Educating family members on how to use Narcan can significantly enhance the safety measures in households with known opioid risks.

How to Obtain Narcan

Narcan (naloxone) is increasingly available to the public, with various options for obtaining it:

  • Pharmacies: Narcan is available over-the-counter at most pharmacies. Many states have passed regulations allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a personal prescription, under a standing order. Simply visit your local pharmacy to purchase Narcan. Most insurance plans, cover Narcan, often at a low or no cost to the patient. 
  • Community Health Centers and Organizations: These centers often distribute Narcan for free and may also offer training on how to use it. Community health organizations are an invaluable resource, particularly for those who may not have easy access to pharmacies or adequate insurance.
  • Online Resources: Some organizations offer Narcan through mail-order services. This option includes detailed instructions for use and is helpful for those in remote or underserved areas.

Training on How to Administer Narcan

Proper training on how to administer Narcan can save lives during an opioid overdose crisis. Here’s how you can get trained:

  • Local Health Departments: Many offer Narcan training programs, which are often free of charge. These sessions teach participants how to recognize the signs of an overdose, administer naloxone correctly, and perform follow-up procedures.
  • Hospitals and Medical Centers: Training may also be available through local hospitals or medical centers. These institutions sometimes offer sessions as part of broader community health initiatives.
  • Community Organizations: Non-profits and advocacy groups focused on addiction support and education frequently conduct Narcan training. They also provide resources for ongoing support to individuals and families dealing with opioid addiction.
  • Online Training: There are online platforms and videos that offer comprehensive training on Narcan administration, which can be a convenient option for those unable to attend in-person sessions.

Narcan Is Not a Long-Term Solution

While Narcan is effective in emergency interventions, it is not a treatment for opioid addiction itself. It does not address the underlying addiction or dependency on opioids. After Narcan administration, the opioids can still remain in the body and potentially cause another overdose if the effects of Narcan wear off before the opioids are fully metabolized. This situation often requires multiple doses of Narcan, depending on the strength and amount of the opioid taken.

Immediate Withdrawal After Narcan Use

When Narcan (naloxone) is administered to reverse an opioid overdose, it can lead to a sudden onset of withdrawal symptoms. 

  • Nausea and vomiting – The rapid removal of opioid effects can upset the stomach, leading to feelings of nausea or the urge to vomit.
  • Sweating – Sweating is a common physical reaction when the body attempts to regulate itself after the disruption of opioid effects.
  • Accelerated heart rate (tachycardia) – The body’s response to the sudden lack of opioids can cause the heart rate to increase rapidly, a direct reaction to the stress and imbalance in the system.
  • Agitation – Patients may feel unusually restless or irritated, which is a psychological effect of withdrawal.
  • Muscle aches and pains – As the body adjusts to the absence of opioids, it may experience aches and pains that were previously dulled by opioid use.

It is important to be aware that almost immediately after administering Narcan, the individual might start exhibiting severe withdrawal symptoms, becoming restless, sweating profusely, and complaining of muscle pains and a racing heart. They may also begin vomiting and experiencing intense agitation right there.

These symptoms, though signs that the Narcan is effectively working, can be extremely distressing and may shock those who are not prepared for them. However, they serve as clear indicators of the body’s dependency on opioids and highlight the abruptness with which Narcan acts.

An Opportunity to Start the Recovery Process

The administration of Narcan can be a pivotal moment for someone experiencing an opioid overdose. It provides not only a second chance at life but also an opportunity to seek long-term treatment and recovery. The moments and days following the use of Narcan are crucial for engaging with healthcare providers to discuss treatment options for opioid dependency. This period is often when individuals are most receptive to beginning a path towards recovery.

There are a few things to remember about Narcan:

  • Narcan can save a person’s life if that individual is overdosing.
  • It is never a recovery solution nor should be seen as a way to detox.
  • Narcan does not always work. In some situations, not even this powerful narcotic can stop an overdose. In other words, don’t rely on it to bring you back.
  • Only obtain Narcan from a medical professional or other first responder.
  • Recognize that opioid addiction recovery is an option for you today.

As families and individuals navigate these challenging circumstances, understanding and having access to resources like Narcan can be incredibly supportive. It is an essential part of the path to recovery, providing a crucial intervention that can lead to a re-evaluation of personal health and lifestyle choices.

True Life Recovery is Here to Help

If you or a loved one is considering treatment options following an opioid overdose or if you’re seeking to understand more about how to manage the risks associated with opioid use, True Life Recovery is here to help. 

We understand that recovery is a deeply personal and complex process. We offer a range of services tailored to meet the unique needs of each person, including medical detox, individual and group therapy, and comprehensive aftercare planning to prevent relapse. Our experienced team can provide the information, support, and care needed to navigate these difficult waters and help you reclaim a healthier, substance-free life.

At True Life Recovery, we believe that education and empowerment are key to successful recovery outcomes. Do not hesitate to reach out to us today!

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Stephen White - True Life Recovery

Thank you for reading our latest article. My name is Stephen White, Director of Business Development for True Life Recovery. If you or your loved one needs help with addiction recovery, please don’t hesitate to call me directly. I am passionate about what I do, and here to answer any questions, support you, and guide you on your journey towards recovery. Let’s take the first step to a brighter future together. Call me at 714-909-2337 now!

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