How NARCAN Works and What it is.
You’re not alone if you’re wondering how NARCAN works. More and more people are hearing about this supposed miracle drug which brings people back from the brink of death from opioid overdose. However, it is important to understand how NARCAN works, what it is exactly and what its limitations are. It is a powerful and effective medication, but it is science, not a miracle. As such, there are limits to what it can do and it’s very important to know what they are. This information will help you use it more effectively and not overestimate what it’s capable of.
What NARCAN is
NARCAN is a brand name for the drug naloxone, specifically when intended to reverse an opioid overdose. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist which can rapidly block and reverse the effects of opioids, so this is how NARCAN works of course. In this case, it’s the respiratory suppressant effects which cause breathing and heart rate to slow or stop during an overdose which are the most urgent to address. While naloxone has been around since the 1960s and approved for opioid overdose in 1971, the widespread use of it for opioid overdose is a more recent phenomenon.
There are few reasons for this. One is necessity sadly. The exploding opioid epidemic in the United States first fueled in part by OxyContin in the late 90s and early 2000s and by greater availability of purer forms of heroin. More recently the appearance of the ultra-potent synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanyl present in street heroin and fake prescription tablets have driven overdose numbers. It was a fake Vicodin tablet made with fentanyl which was partly responsible for Prince’s death in 2016.
How NARCAN Works
If you want to know how NARCAN works, you begin with the mechanism of action in naloxone, since that is the active ingredient in NARACAN. NARCAN is basically the brand name for fast delivery naloxone, now available in the form of a nasal spray. In the past, NARCAN-like medication could only be delivered with an intramuscular injection for overdose. This method is still used and it is generally more effective than the nasal spray. However, let’s be honest, not everyone is comfortable with jamming a syringe into someone’s leg or buttocks and during an emergency that can be even more stressful for someone who isn’t a medical professional. How NARACAN works in the nasal spray form is the same, but it is much easier to administer and the recipient does not need to inhale deeply for it to work. Nasal spray is also a bit easier to carry around for obvious reasons.
How NARCAN works:
- Naloxone enters the bloodstream through nasal capillaries or bloodstream.
- The medicine reaches the brain where it dislodges opioid molecules from the brains opioid receptors.
- Disengaging the opioid molecules effectively reverses the respiratory suppressant and other effects of opioids.
- This can serve to reverse the effects of an overdose and allow a person to begin breathing again.
How NARCAN Works to Save Lives
How NARCAN works to save lives is by putting the ability to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose within reach of non-medical professionals. Recent changes to the law which show people where to get NARCAN and make it legal for them to do so without a prescription have likely saved countless lives. As of now, anyone can buy NARCAN at a pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. If you want to know where to get NARCAN when you don’t have the money to buy it, many community organizations and non-profit groups dedicated to helping fight addiction have NARCAN available for free for people who cannot buy it.
NARCAN is Helping to Save Lives Because:
- It is a highly effective and easily administered medication (in nasal spray form especially)
- You no longer need a prescription to get NARCAN.
- NARCAN is found in more and more public places, even in first aid kits.
- People in active addiction or their loved ones may carry NARCAN to avoid catastrophe.
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
We hope this article has been helpful in shedding some light on how NARCAN works to save lives. One important thing to remember however is that NARCAN and other naloxone forms are only part of the solution to opioid addiction. They can arrest an opioid overdose in many case. One thing that is important to know is that fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs are so powerful that an initial dose of NARCAN is not always enough to reverse an overdose. Regardless of the situation, if someone has overdosed you should always call 911 for an ambulance. Every time. Even if NARCAN has been administered the person may need additional naloxone via an intramuscular injection and they could need other medical services. It’s not enough to use the nasal spray and call it done. If you or someone you love is living with opioid dependence, Blue Hills Recovery can be part of your solution. Give us a call at (508) 680-0115