Naloxone, also known by the name Narcan, is a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. By increasing the lowered rate of respiration and blood pressure that is seen in fatal opioid overdoses, Naloxone can save the lives of drug abusers who have taken their search for the ultimate high too far.
Naloxone is safe, legal and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It holds no potential for abuse or dependence, as it does not produce any intoxicating effects. Its only function is to neutralize opiates, so it does not produce life-saving effects in conjunction with other drug overdoses.
How Does Naloxone Work?
To understand the life-saving mechanism of Naloxone, it helps to understand what actually happens in a person’s body when they are overdosing. When a user takes heroin, morphine, Oxycontin;05 or other opioids, there are many sets of receptors to which the drug binds. This is one reason opioids are hold such a high potential for abuse and dependency; the receptors are located all throughout the human body and are involved in vital biological functions. The highest concentrations of opioid receptors are found in the:
- Spinal cord
- Digestive tract
- Lungs and airways
Although many people think that only the brain is affected by opioid abuse, nearly all primary internal organs are sensitive to changes in opioid levels. Since essentially all major functions in the human body can be affected by opiate intake, it’s clear to see why an overdose can become fatal so quickly. Symptoms of an overdose include:
- Slowed breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Low blood pressure
- Constriction of the pupils
When Naloxone is administered to a person who has overdosed, it works by knocking the opioids off of the cell receptors and then blocking the re-uptake of the opioids. Naloxone is known as an antagonist, which means that it binds to opioid receptors more strongly than the drugs themselves without activating the receptors. Naloxone’s removal of opioids, blocking of receptor action and inert presence are what reverses an overdose and saves lives.
Naloxone can be delivered by IV, a shot given in the thigh or upper arm or in a nasal spray. The drug should awaken the overdosed individual within 5 minutes. Further doses should be administered as needed if the victim does not regain consciousness within this time frame. Naloxone remains active within the body anywhere from 30-90 minutes, so multiple doses may also be needed in order to stave off additional symptoms until the opiates have had a chance to be fully metabolized and excreted by the body. Medical attention must be sought as soon as possible, not only because the effects of the drug can wear off and overdose symptoms set in once again, but also because Naloxone causes almost immediate and severe withdrawal symptoms in many users.
Who Can Use Naloxone?
Naloxone is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an important drug that all basic health systems should have access to. It is classified by the FDA as a prescription medication, although it is not recognized as a controlled substance. Paramedics have carried it for decades, and many police officers have also begun to carry it in order to respond more quickly to overdoses.
While doctors and pharmacists must dispense Naloxone in accord with varying local and state regulations, there have been many progressive laws enacted to ensure that a wider distribution of Naloxone is possible within all communities. Medical treatment can often come too late once a person has overdosed, mainly due to people’s fear of legal repercussions. Fellow drug users often fear that they will be arrested for drug possession if they call 911 to aid an overdosing friend, leading to delays or lack of action that can ultimately result in death.
Recently, there have been major community movements to institute Naloxone prescription and training programs that are targeted at educating drug users about overdoses and the lifesaving effects of Naloxone. In 2010, Washington state passed a groundbreaking law that protects drug users or witnesses from prosecution for providing aid to someone who has overdosed. This law allows any one who is at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose to carry a Naloxone prescription at all times, and also grants people who are have illegal drugs on them at the time of an overdose full immunity from being charged with possession. Compassionate and practical laws such as these are being passed all over the country in response to the fact that drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death and injury in the U.S.
Naloxone – A Proven Success
While some opponents of Naloxone prescription and education programs argue that it may encourage a more reckless use of opiates, this is not the case. A study conducted in San Francisco questioned current opiate users as to the effect that a readily available overdose remedy would have upon their current drug use. The overwhelming attitude was that it would not increase their usage rate, although they did express that they would be less likely to call the authorities for medical assistance if Naloxone were available to administer.
Naloxone gives drug addicts a second chance to get help, instead of causing an unintentional overdose to become the last mistake they ever make. This drug is proven to be:
- Effective at stopping and reversing the fatal effects of an overdose
- Safe and nearly completely free of any inherent side effects
- Easy to administer, even for people without medical knowledge
As this drug becomes more accessible to drug users and the people close to them that may be present during an overdose, the country will most likely see a drop in overdose-related deaths. An opiate addict may not be aware of the potency of their drug, or they may merely lose track of how much they have consumed. Increasing numbers of people are pledging their support for laws that enable community access to this drug and eliminate penalties for drug users or bystanders who decide to act quickly in order to save a victim of overdose. Draconian drug laws are not saving the lives of drug addicts, but Naloxone offers people the possibility to turn their lives around by curing an overdose that could otherwise have been a fatal error.