Skip main navigation

Naloxone for Overdose

Sold under the brand name Narcan, Naloxone is a medication used to block or reverse the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, morphine and methadone. It is a medication recommended by the World Health Organisation for the treatment of opioid overdose cases and in many countries, can be prescribed by a doctor to a person who is at risk of overdosing on opioids.

Sold under the brand name Narcan, Naloxone is a medication used to block or reverse the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, morphine and methadone. It is a medication recommended by the World Health Organisation for the treatment of opioid overdose cases and in many countries, can be prescribed by a doctor to a person who is at risk of overdosing on opioids.

The human brain has evolved with receptors primed to absorb opiate substances. Human’s naturally release opiates within the body, for example, when we exercise, endorphins are responsible for the “natural high” that can be produced.

When the human body receives too much of a central nervous system (CNS) suppressant it can lead to a biological response. If the dose is too high it can lead to adverse side effects, such as respiratory failure, overdose, coma or even death.

Naloxone can be administered by injection into a muscle (intramuscular) or by a spray into the nose (intranasal) and works by blocking the opiate receptors in the brain effectively stopping the opiate working and within minutes, it reverses the effects of opioid overdose. Depending on the individual, naloxone has a half-life of between 30 and 90 minutes. After about 30 minutes the effects of naloxone wear off and the brain’s opiate receptors are once again flooded with the original opioid, therefore, it is not a cure for an overdose but can help to keep a person alive until medical assistance arrives.

Following the administration of naloxone, first responders may have to manage a person undergoing immediate withdrawal possibly becoming aggressive and attempting to seek relief from the withdrawal symptoms. However, the opiates are still active within the person’s body and the risk of death by overdose is still a real concern.

Naloxone is considered a safe and effective medication for use in the European Union and within most countries throughout the world. It has no serious side effects if accidentally consumed by an opiate naive person. While it can prevent overdose deaths caused by opioid overdose, it is not effective in reversing the effects of non-opioid substances.

With the opiate crisis at epidemic proportions in the United States, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA), recommends that naloxone, (brand name Narcan), is provided to all first response services, including fire brigade, ambulance and police. Naloxone is available without prescription in pharmacies throughout the US. It is also available on most insurance plans and provided free by many community-based organisations or public health programs.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has provided guidance and video on naloxone and its administration. The Lead Educator Professor Catherine Comiskey in her role as the Chair of the Scientific Committee of the EMCDDA recommends you to view the video before proceeding to the next step.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Now that you have watched this video, what reflections do you have on the availability and administration of naloxone?

This article is from the free online

Identifying and Responding to Drug and Alcohol Addiction in Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Healthcare Practice

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education