What Is Naloxone (Narcan)?

Naloxone, known by common brand name Narcan, is a medication designed to reverse the harmful effects of Opioid overdose. Opioids include Heroin, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Oxycodone and others. If not treated immediately, an Opioid overdose can be extremely dangerous to a person’s health.

81.6% of reported Naloxone reversals involved Heroin. Prescription Opioids were involved in 14.1% of cases.

The 3 most common signs of an Opioid overdose – known as the Opioid overdose triad – include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Unconsciousness
  • Respiratory depression

According to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms may consist of:

  • Slow heartbeat
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Inability to respond to those around them

With a growing number of Opioid-related deaths in the US, Naloxone offers a life-saving treatment until emergency medical technicians can arrive on scene. The medication should only be used if there are Opioids in a person’s system. Narcan does not counter other drugs and should not be used in individuals who do not have Opioids in their system.

Although Narcan is effective in countering the negative impact of an Opioid overdose, it should not be used by those in active addiction who are abusing Opioids.  If you are struggling with an addiction to Opioids, contact a treatment provider to connect with a treatment center near you.

Uses Of Naloxone (Narcan)

After an Opioid overdose, Narcan helps prevent respiratory and central nervous system depression. This occurs when breathing has slowed down or is at risk of stopping. The medication is injected into a vein or muscle and starts to take effect within minutes. If someone you know experiences an overdose, contact an emergency medical team quickly after administering the medicine.

In addition to reversing the negative impact of an Opioid overdose, Naloxone is also used after surgery. Generally, a small dose is sufficient for the minor Opioid depression caused during surgery.

How Does Naloxone (Narcan) Help Addiction Treatment?

Naloxone should only be used to help a person recover from an Opioid overdose. It is not meant to be treat an addiction to Opioids. Addiction treatment requires a comprehensive program of specific therapies, counseling and psychological support, and more, especially in the case of Heroin treatment and rehab.

Individuals who may benefit from Naloxone include those who:

  • Take high doses of Opioids long-term.
  • Consume Opioids regularly to manage chronic pain.
  • Are in or have recently completed an Opioid detoxification program.
  • Experienced an Opioid overdose previously.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naloxone reversed more than 10,000 overdoses between 1996 and 2010.

If you are struggling with an Opioid addiction, don’t wait to get help.

How Is Naloxone (Narcan) Administered?

Currently, there are 2 types of Narcan available. Emergency medical technicians, first responders, and hospital staff have the medication on-hand, but recently, it has been approved by several states to be released through various pharmacies as well.

  • The nasal spray is a single-use, single-dose only device. It requires no assembly and is easily administered to an individual as they lay on their back.
  • The single-use auto-injector that can be held with one hand. Its verbal instructions describe step-by-step how to administer the medication.

A medical professional, family member, or caregiver can assist with supplying medication from either device. Since it’s possible for symptoms to return after 1 dose, emergency medical assistance should be contacted right away.

Naloxone is an Opioid antagonist or blocker that temporarily reverses the effects of Opioids for 20 to 30 minutes…the person who overdosed must still go to the emergency department for medical treatment.

- Dr. Michael Weaver, professor and medical director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Research on Addiction at the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center–Houston

The amount of medicine needed will vary based on the individual’s specific dosage and medical problem. Close family members or friends should be alert to overdose warning signs and know the device’s location in case of an emergency.

Side Effects Of Naloxone (Narcan)

While helpful in reversing an Opioid overdose, Naloxone may cause some side effects. The most common side effect is Opioid withdrawal, which sometimes includes:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Body aches
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Slight fever
  • Chills

The risk of an Opioid withdrawal increases with higher doses of Narcan.

Though rare, Naloxone may lead to severe side effects, including:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

Those who do not seek medical treatment after receiving a dose of Naloxone may face an urge to take more drugs – especially if they are addicted to Opioids. Naloxone stays in the body approximately 1 hour, sometimes a little more. However, some Opioids can stay in the body for up to 12 hours, meaning Naloxone will wear off long before the drug. Consuming additional Opioids after taking the medication significantly increases your risk of a second overdose.

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Drugs Naloxone (Narcan) Can Use to Counteract

Narcan assists with counteracting the dangerous effects of an Opioid overdose. Some of the most common Opioids it can reverse effects of include:

  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone

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Where Is Naloxone (Narcan) Available?

Obtaining Naloxone depends on the state and country you reside in. In many areas, a physician prescription is often required, so speak with your doctor if you take Opioids for health conditions and pain management.

In order for Naloxone to be most effective, we need to get it into the hands of people who are most likely to be on the scene of an overdose…they can start the process of reviving the person before paramedics or law enforcement come.

- Dr. Stephen Jones, a researcher and author of the CDC’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs Providing Naloxone to Laypersons report

Most recently, some areas have allowed the purchase of the medication through dispensing pharmacists or several retail pharmacies. In fact, cities and counties with Naloxone programs in place are showing slower rates in the growth of Opioid deaths compared to those without Naloxone programs. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you love overdosing on Opioids, check with your doctor about local regulations for purchasing Narcan.

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Naloxone (Narcan) Statistics


number of deaths

Prescription Opioid overdose deaths have more than tripled in the past 20 years in the US.


percent increase

Naloxone prescriptions filled at US pharmacies increased 1170% between 2013 and 2015.


community programs

There are currently more than 600 community-based overdose education and Naloxone distribution (OEND) programs in the US.

If you or someone you know has an Opioid addiction, there are treatment options available. Contact a treatment provider today to explore your options.



Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

David Hampton

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  • A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).

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