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Naloxone (Narcan): Treatment for Addiction, Withdrawal, and Overdose

Naloxone (Narcan)

Drug abuse is one of the largest epidemics in the U.S. In the first half of 2020 alone, there were 93,331 deaths by drug overdose.1 Opioids are responsible for 70% of overdose-related deaths worldwide.2

To help save the victims of overdose, over 27% of rehab facilities in the U.S. offer treatment with Naloxone for overdose and for people struggling with substance use disorder (SUD).Between 1996 and 2010, Naloxone helped reverse over 10,000 overdoses.4

What Is Naloxone?

Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is a medication that helps rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It works as an opioid antagonist. In other words, it will attach to opioid receptors, blocking the effects of opioids.5

Specifically, Naloxone can counteract the life-threatening effects of opioid overdose on the central nervous system. It can also help counteract depression of the respiratory system, allowing overdose victims to breathe.6 

It’s a non-addictive (nonscheduled) prescription medication that will only have an effect if the opioids are still in the person’s system. If there are no opioids, Naloxone won’t work.6 

What Is Naloxone Used for?

Naloxone is used to stop symptoms of opioid overdose. Candidates for this medication include people who:7

  • Take opioids in high doses for long-term chronic pain management.
  • Have been discharged from hospitalization after opioid poisoning.
  • Receive rotating medication regimens with opioids.
  • Take specific long-acting or extended-release opioid medication.

However, Naloxone doesn’t help symptoms of withdrawal. In fact, high doses of Naloxone increase the risk of opioid withdrawal. This is why it’s usually used in combination with other medications, such as Buprenorphine. Combined together, they are a common option that many rehab centers, such as treatment facilities held by the American Addiction Centers, use for battling SUD.7,8

What Drugs Does Naloxone Work on?

Naloxone is a common medication in treating individuals who use the following drugs:7

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

Can Naloxone Be Used for Alcoholism Treatment?

There aren’t known interactions between alcohol and Naloxone. In general, Naloxone is unable to influence alcohol overdose. While high doses of Naloxone can sometimes suppress continuous alcohol consumption, this isn’t enough to approve Naloxone for alcohol overdose and its treatment. Similarly, it’s extremely rare to use Naloxone or Narcan for alcohol withdrawal syndrome.9

How Is Naloxone Used?

Naloxone is usually injected intramuscularly (into an overdosing person’s muscle), into the veins, or under the skin. Additionally, Naloxone can also be given as an FDA-approved prepackaged intranasal spray.10

This medicine is usually administered by paramedics or other medical professionals. However, in case of an emergency, family members, friends, or bystanders can also help by giving Naloxone to someone experiencing an overdose.10 

Most importantly, no matter how you or a loved one use Naloxone, you shouldn’t take it before a professional has taught you when and how to use it. Make sure to thoroughly read the product instructions, as well.5

What Are the Side Effects of Naloxone (Narcan)?

Naloxone can cause an allergic reaction in a small number of patients. Some signs of allergy are:7

  • Face, lip, or throat swelling.
  • Hives on the face.
  • Difficulties breathing.

If the person experiences any of these symptoms, they should seek immediate medical help. They should also refrain from any potentially unsafe tasks, such as driving.7

Naloxone will usually cause symptoms of opioid withdrawal. This is why the use of Naloxone should always be followed with medical assistance. Some symptoms that the user might experience are:7

  • Feeling nervous, irritable, or restless.
  • Weakness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Body aches.
  • Stomach pain, diarrhea, or nausea.
  • Runny nose or sneezing.
  • Fever or chills.

How Long Does Narcan Last?

How long the effects of Narcan will last depend on the method of administration. Typically, Naloxone will start working in just 6.5 minutes, and it has an average half-life of 1.24 to 2.08 hours, with nasal spray usually lasting no longer than 90 minutes.11

Despite its short half-life, the medication can remain within your body for much longer. However, this will depend not just on the method of use, but also the patient’s age, weight, and liver health.11 

Injectable and auto-injectable Naloxone will usually stay in your system for much longer than the nasal spray. Still, no matter how you’ve taken the medication, all Naloxone metabolites should leave your system in no more than a week.11

How Much Does Naloxone Cost?

How much Naloxone costs depends on where you get it, in what amount, and in what form. You can check the retail cost at your local pharmacy.5

Overall, a single Naloxone rescue kit will cost anywhere between $22 and $60 for internasal form. However, a Narcan kit that contains two doses can cost up to $140.12 

Where to Get Naloxone for Free?

There are several ways you can get Naloxone treatment for opioid overdose for free. In many states, public health organizations that help people with SUD offer free Narcan kits to families and friends of individuals who are struggling. Some drug companies offer cost assistance programs for individuals who cannot afford to pay for it.5 

Difference Between Naloxone and Narcan

Narcan was the first brand name of Naloxone. Naloxone got that name when it was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for opioid overdose reversal. While today there are many other brand names and formulations for Naloxone, many individuals still call this medication ‘Narcan’. However, ‘Naloxone’ is the only proper generic name.5

Difference Between Naltrexone and Naloxone

Naltrexone, also known under the name ‘Vivitrol’, is a medication used to block opiate receptors for both opioids and alcohol. It can be administered as an injectable and as Naltrexone pills.13 

The key difference is that Naloxone is used to help patients suffering from an opioid overdose, while Naltrexone keeps individuals who have been clean for 7 days or more from relapsing. Sometimes, Naltrexone is used in addiction treatment aftercare programs. However, almost no one will use either Naltrexone or Naloxone for withdrawal. In fact, Naloxone will cause withdrawal.13 

Also, while Naloxone works immediately, Naltrexone usually takes some time before its effects are noticeable.13 

Difference Between Buprenorphine and Naloxone

Buprenorphine is FDA-approved mediation that dulls the effects of opioids. It’s usually prescribed together with Naloxone to help a struggling individual leave opioids and stay away from them.8 

Alone, Buprenorphine can help people get off opioids, while Naloxone fights overdoses. When combined, they form Suboxone, another medication used in addiction treatment.8

Does Insurance Cover Rehab Treatment for Naloxone?

If you have insurance, you might want to check with your insurance provider to see whether they cover it. Most of the time, the treatment is covered and the patients with insurance will co-pay $0 to $20 for Narcan. However, this depends on your provider and the type of program you have.5,14 

The users can call their insurance providers and see what rehab options are available through them. If you don’t know how to do so, the AAC team can verify the insurance coverage for you. This might help you calculate the cost of your rehab and overall treatment

It might be a good idea to call the AAC helpline, as well. There, you’ll get a chance to speak to a person who can check your benefits right while you’re on the phone.

Frequently Asked Questions


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