How Does Naloxone Work?

America is in the grips of an opioid crisis. Between October 2021 and October 2022, 101,750 overdose deaths were reported, mainly due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.1 A variety of measures are being taken to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths. Among these measures is the increasing availability of a lifesaving drug known as naloxone.

This page will go over the basics of naloxone and when and how to administer it.

What Is Naloxone?

Naloxone is a life-saving drug that quickly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.2,3 This FDA-approved medication is effective at counteracting overdose on opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids.3,4

Naloxone comes in a one-step nasal spray. These pre-filled devices are easy to use with little or no training. Naloxone nasal spray can be generic or marketed under brand names. Brand formulations Narcan and Rivive are both FDA-approved for purchase across the United States without a prescription.1,2

Generic naloxone and other brand formulations, such as Kloxxado, require a prescription.

How Does Naloxone Work?

Naloxone is classified as an opioid antagonist because it binds strongly to opioid receptors, displacing and blocking any opioids that are in the system. This allows naloxone to reverse the effects of opioids, restoring normal breathing patterns in someone who is breathing slowly or has stopped breathing.2–4

Naloxone typically works within 2 to 3 minutes, although if a very strong opioid such as fentanyl has been taken, multiple doses of naloxone may be needed. Naloxone has no effect on someone that has not taken opioids.2,3

Can Naloxone Get You High?

Naloxone cannot get you high.5

Naloxone only works to reverse the effect of opioids in someone’s system. There is also no risk of misuse, physiological dependence, or addiction associated with naloxone.2,5

When to Administer Narcan

If you suspect that someone with you is experiencing an opioid overdose, you should administer Narcan (or another brand of naloxone). Naloxone will have no effect on someone that hasn’t taken opioids, but if they are overdosing, it could save their life.2

Some of the most common signs of an opioid overdose include:2,3,6

  • Arms and legs going limp.
  • Being unable to speak.
  • Breathing that is irregular, slow, shallow, or has stopped.
  • Difficulty staying conscious or being unable to wake up.
  • Heartbeat that is faint or has stopped.
  • Lips and fingernails turning purple.
  • Making choking, snoring, or gurgling noises.
  • Skin that is blue, cold, clammy, or pale.
  • Tiny “pinpoint” pupils.
  • Vomiting.

When responding to a suspected opioid overdose:3,6–8

  1. Call 911.
  2. Administer naloxone (a single dose) if it is available. Opioid overdose symptoms should reverse within 2 to 3 minutes. If the person does not become responsive, administer a second dose. The 911 operator will stay on the phone with you and let you know what to do next.
  3. Place the person on their side (or what’s known as the recovery position) to prevent choking if they are unconscious and stay with them until emergency services arrive.3,8 If they are awake, try to keep them alert and breathing.

The effects of naloxone wear off much faster than that of opioids. Therefore, it is crucial that the patient gets treated by medical professionals to ensure that overdose symptoms don’t recur and breathing remains normal. Also, an opioid overdose can cause other medical issues that need treatment.2,6

Most states—including Florida—have Good Samaritan Laws to ensure that both you and the person who is overdosing are given legal protection.3,9

Naloxone Side Effects

Naloxone will typically have no effect on someone that has not taken opioids.1,2

Because naloxone blocks opioids from binding to receptors, it can cause someone to enter opioid withdrawal if they are physiologically dependent on opioids. This precipitated withdrawal may be uncomfortable, but the reversal of opioid-induced respiratory depression can be lifesaving.1,2

Where to Get Narcan (Naloxone)

In March 2023, the FDA approved Narcan as an over-the-counter product.1 Many pharmacies have Narcan in stock, available to purchase without a prescription.2

Rivive is another brand name formulation of naloxone that is FDA-approved for over-the-counter sale without a prescription. Generic and other brand formulations, such as Kloxxado, are available by prescription.

There are also community programs, public health groups, area health departments, and needle exchange programs where people who need it can access naloxone for free.2,3

If and when you are prescribed opioids, your doctor may also prescribe naloxone, in which case it may be covered by your insurance.3

Getting Treatment for Opioid Addiction at Recovery First

Naloxone can save your life in the event of an opioid overdose. However, long-term recovery from opioid addiction often requires other interventions like the ones provided at Recovery First addiction treatment center in Florida.10

There are many different types of rehab offered at Recovery First, including:

Each level of care typically involves behavioral therapy for addiction, peer support, psychoeducation, and the use of medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), if necessary.10

Upon admission to a treatment facility, clinicians will perform an evaluation to learn about your:11

  • Current and past substance use.
  • Mental and physical health.
  • Family history of substance use.
  • Employment and living situation.

This information will be used to outline an individualized treatment plan. As you go through treatment and your needs evolve, further evaluations will determine changes in approach that need to be made.

Call to speak to an admissions navigator and begin the admissions process. Compassionate admissions navigators can also answer questions about using insurance to pay for rehab or other ways to cover the cost of treatment at our inpatient rehab near Miami or the outpatient center.

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When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Contact Recovery First, and we will help you or your loved one get the treatment needed to stop the dangerous, progressive effects of addiction.