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What is Narcan?

Many of us have heard of Narcan, but what exactly is it and how does it work? Well, Narcan is a name-brand drug for naloxone. More specifically, naloxone is an opioid antagonist drug that is able to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose very rapidly. This means Narcan and other brands of naloxone can be the difference between life and death for people struggling with substance issues. In order to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, naloxone is specifically capable of attaching to opioid receptors and therefore then reversing as well as blocking the effects of other opioids. Narcan and other forms of naloxone will have no effect on people without opioids in their system.

In 1961, Jack Fishman and Mozes Lewenstein created naloxone chloride, and the Food and Drug Administration quickly approved this drug to treat opioid toxicity, also known as overdosing. Throughout the 1980s as well as the 1990s, naloxone was strictly to be used in hospital settings only by emergency medical personnel in order to reverse the effects of an overdose when using opioid-involved anesthetics. During this time, naloxone did find its way outside of the hospital through medical workers who recognized the need for it among drug overdoses. Besides this, access to naloxone outside of a hospital setting was practically non-existent. 25 years after naloxone was initially approved, the Chicago Recovery Alliance made the decision to begin distributing naloxone to those using syringe services.

Because naloxone can save lives, it is important to understand when the medications should be administered. Anyone who is showing signs of an opioid overdose should receive Narcan or another form of naloxone. This can include overdoses from many different drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and more. Signs of an overdose can include small, pinpoint pupils; cold or clammy skin; weak or no breathing at all; and even falling asleep or becoming unconscious. If you think someone is overdosing, then you should immediately call 911. If you have naloxone available, it should be administered. You should not be scared to give naloxone. As previously mentioned, this medication will have no effects on people who do not have opioids in their system. Also, many states have Good Samaritan Laws that will protect you from being arrested or facing charges for helping someone who is overdosing.

So, who is allowed to carry Narcan, and how it is available? Originally, Narcan was introduced as a prescription drug. Over the past few years, this has changed. According to the CDC, anyone is able to purchase and carry naloxone. Naloxone is not just for people with opioid or substance use disorders. Carrying naloxone can allow bystanders to potentially save the life of someone in need. Naloxone can be purchased in two different administrative forms: The first form is an intranasal spray. This form of medication requires no needles or swabbing. The medication is simply administered via spraying into the nostrils. The second form of naloxone is given by injection. More specifically, the different types of injections can occur under the skin, in the muscles, or in the veins. Both forms of naloxone are for one-time use. There are a variety of different places where people can buy naloxone. Many pharmacies across the country carry this medication, but it can also be bought online. More recently, Narcan Nasal Spray has become available via vending machines all throughout different areas of the country. It is possible to also get naloxone free of charge from places in your city such as community-based distribution programs, your local health department, and more.

Community-based distribution of naloxone has shown to be effective in saving lives. Between the years 1999 and 2017, around 400,000 people in the United States lost their lives due to opioid overdoses. With this public health crisis on the rise, specific procedures for distributing naloxone were put into place. In 2013, the NC Harm Reduction Coalition implemented a community-based distribution system of naloxone in North Carolina. Throughout the years 2013 to 2016, a total of 39,449 naloxone kits were distributed within North Carolina. Based on the findings within the study, it is suggested that there is a protective effect on annual county overdose opioid death rates. As naloxone has become more available to our societies, the number of lives saved has also increased.

Just 20 years ago, many people had no idea what Narcan, or naloxone, was. Today, people across the country can be found wearing t-shirts that exclaim, “Keep Calm & Carry Naloxone.” Many now choose to continually carry Narcan and other forms of naloxone on their personnel each and every day in case they or someone they know needs it. Throughout its implementation, naloxone has helped save the lives of many different people in need, and it will continue to do so.


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