What is Naloxone and how is it helpful to those with Opioid Use Disorders?

With the steady rise of substance overdose, especially opioid overdose, people are turning to more harm reduction strategies such as administering naloxone on a person that is suspected of overdosing on opioids. What is naloxone? Also known by the brand name Narcan, naloxone is an FDA-approved emergency medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It is what is known as an opioid antagonist and will attach itself to an opioid receptor that will reverse and block the effects of opioids in the body. 

A black background contains a white drawing of the chemical structure of Naloxone, a medication used for opioid use disorder.

Naloxone isn’t by any means a cure to an overdose. It merely helps restore normal breathing to a person in cases where they have slowed breathing or even stopped breathing since overdoses kill people through asphyxiation. Like any medication, there are limitations and side effects. Naloxone only works on the body for 30 to 90 minutes and will only be effective if the person is overdosing on an opioid substance. Naloxone can also cause symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Because the individual is no longer receiving the desired effects from the opioids, those who have a severe addiction may begin experiencing restlessness, body aches, stomach pains, fever and chills as well as psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety. Once the person is alert and breathing again, they should seek immediate medical attention from a professional health care provider.

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How do I know if a person is overdosing and what are the signs? Typical signs of an opioid overdose can include shallow breathing, vomiting, inability to speak, a faint heartbeat and discoloring of the skin on the lips and fingernails. There are two FDA-approved forms of naloxone: a nasal spray or a single-use dosage injectable. Many and most pharmacies carry naloxone without a required doctor’s prescription. However, they can be quite expensive with some nasal sprays retailing around $100. Fortunately, they are free of charge through specialized non-profits, health care providers or clinics that focus on behavioral health services and substance addiction recovery services.

How do overdoses happen? An overdose can happen in many ways. If a person accidentally uses the medication incorrectly, if the medication is used with illicit drugs, if a person purposely takes another’s medication or if a person is mixing opioids with alcohol or other over-the-counter drugs. Amid the growing opioid overdose crisis, many healthcare providers want to see a more widespread availability to access naloxone. They claim carrying naloxone is similar to carrying an epinephrine auto-injector for those who suffer from severe allergies. It just provides an extra layer of protection for those at high risk for overdose, says those who support more access to this life-saving medication.  

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What are some ways to address the overdose crisis? Supporters of naloxone say the best way to bring awareness and destigmatize opioid addiction and overdose is through increased education, availability and accessibility, making it affordable or free for anyone. Advocates are pushing for more training for communities, prescription providers, first responders and family members of those who use opioids, on the benefits of this emergency medication and how to properly and safely administer naloxone.  

If you or a loved one is suffering from opioid addiction, formal substance addiction treatment from Hotel California by the Sea may be the right healthcare provider for you. As one of the premier substance use disorder treatment programs in the country, clients can expect to receive high-quality customized care with a dedicated team of clinicians ready to guide them through every step of the recovery process. Clients have the option for medically managed detox, residential inpatient services and various outpatient programs. Hotel California by the Sea believes everyone’s individual needs are different and should be catered to when it comes to substance addiction recovery. Through gender-specific programming and specialized behavioral therapies such as EMDR therapy and CBT, clients will have a safe and secure environment to heal and recover from the physical and emotional toll of a drug or alcohol addiction.