Naloxone (Narcan): Emergency Treatment for Opioid Overdose
Narcan is the brand name for one specific type of naloxone, a medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. There are two forms of naloxone that anyone can use without medical training, the prefilled nasal spray known as Narcan and the injectable form.
Narcan is an over-the-counter form of naloxone that comes in a metered nasal spray approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that provides life-saving assistance to those who are experiencing an opioid overdose by restoring normal breathing within 2-3 minutes.1 With a rise in accidental opioid overdoses, having access to an easy-to-administer medication can help reduce opioid overdose-related deaths.2
On this page, you will learn about what Narcan is, what it does, how to use it, and where to find Narcan. Additionally, resources are included on how to become trained in administering Narcan. If you or a loved one is experiencing opioid misuse or opioid use disorder (OUD), treatment is available. Information on available treatment is located at the bottom of this page.
What Is Narcan?
Narcan is used to quickly reverse the effects of opioid overdose.1 Opioid overdose has become an increasing problem in the United States.2 You may be at risk for opioid overdose if you:3
- Have misused prescription opioids or are using heroin or elicit synthetic opioids.
- Have an opioid use disorder.
- Have been recently discharged from emergency medical care following a previous opioid overdose.
- Have been recently released from incarceration with a history of opioid misuse or opioid use disorder.
- Take opioids as prescribed for the long-term management of chronic pain.
- Take prescription opioids with alcohol or other sedating medications.
Naloxone is not used as a treatment for opioid use disorder or for treating withdrawal effects but can help in the case of an opioid overdose.1
From October 2021 to October 2022, there were more than 101,750 fatal overdoses in the U.S., a majority of which were the result of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.2 A significant number of overdose-related deaths in the U.S. were due to those who misuse illicit and prescription opioids.4
Naloxone has been in use for over 40 years by emergency medical personnel to help reverse opioid overdoses but Narcan is a newer form of naloxone that was made for the general public.4 In 2015, the FDA approved Narcan nasal spray as a prescription drug to increase access to communities and loved ones.2 To further increase access to such life-saving medication, the FDA approved the first Narcan nasal spray for over-the-counter nonprescription use on March 29, 2023.2
How Does Narcan Work?
Naloxone works as an opioid antagonist.1 Naloxone reverses potentially fatal respiratory depression caused by opioids since it is an opioid receptor antagonist by latching onto the opioid receptors and displacing opioids from their opioid mu receptors.1 Naloxone helps reduce the effects of opioid overdose by restoring the individual to normal breathing if breathing has slowed or stopped. More than 1 dose may be used if the individual’s breathing is not restored within 2-3 minutes after the first Narcan dose.1
It is important to know what drugs are considered opioids, as well as the signs of opioid overdose, so that you can use Narcan effectively. Opioids include:4
Signs of opioid overdose include:5
- Not waking up or responding to voice or touch.
- Abnormal breathing, e.g., very slow or even stopped.
- Pin-point sized pupils.
- Bluish lips and nose.
How to Administer Narcan
Narcan nasal spray comes as a prefilled, needle-free device.1 There is no assembly required for this type of delivery system.1 Narcan is sprayed into the nostril of the individual experiencing opioid overdose while they are lying on their back.1 Narcan nasal spray is available by prescription as well as over-the-counter.2
Narcan is considered a safe antidote for suspected opioid overdoses.3 When intranasal naloxone is given in time, it can save the life of the individual experiencing opioid overdose.3 Training, videos, and other resources on Narcan are available through National Harm Reduction Coalition and Get Naloxone Now.
Each box of Narcan includes instructions for use. Below are simplified instructions on how to administer Narcan nasal spray:6
- Remove the yellow cap.
- Remove the red cap.
- Grab the clear plastic wings on the container.
- Screw the capsule of naloxone into the barrel of the syringe.
- Insert the white cone into the nostril of the individual experiencing an opioid overdose.
- Give a short, vigorous push on the end of the capsule to spray the Narcan into the individual’s nose.
- Empty one-half of the capsule into each nostril.
- If there is no reaction within 2-5 minutes from the dose, administer a second dose of naloxone.
Some opioids are stronger than others and may require multiple doses of naloxone to reduce the overdose effects.1 Always call 911 when there is a suspected opioid overdose so that your loved one can receive immediate medical attention.1
Naloxone, including Narcan, can be given to any person who shows the signs of an opioid overdose or if you suspect that they are experiencing an opioid overdose.1 This medication only works on opioid overdoses, it is not effective in the overdose effects of benzodiazepines, barbiturates, clonidine, GHB, ketamine, or stimulants.4 However, naloxone may still be effective in individuals that have taken a combination of opioids and other sedatives or stimulants.4
Naloxone is appropriate for:5
- Individuals who take a high dose of opioids for long-term chronic pain management.
- Individuals who receive a rotating opioid medication treatment.
- Individuals who have been discharged from emergency medical care after an opioid poisoning or intoxication.
- Individuals who take extended-release or long-acting opioid medications.
- Individuals who had a period of abstinence from opioids, including those who were recently incarcerated.
- Pregnant women, if given in limited doses under a doctor’s supervision.
Naloxone may interact with cough or cold medications and anti-diarrheal medications.7
How Long Does Narcan Last?
Narcan only reverses the effects of opioid overdose for 30 to 90 minutes.1 Once naloxone wears off, the individual may still experience overdose effects.1 After a dose of naloxone is given, the individual should be constantly monitored until emergency medical personnel arrives.1
After the last dose of naloxone is received, the individual should be monitored for 2 hours to ensure that breathing does not slow or stop completely.1 Individuals may start to experience withdrawal symptoms within a couple of minutes after naloxone is administered.1 Opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:5
- Body aches.
- Dizziness or weakness.
- Feeling nervous, restless, or irritable.
- Fever, chills, or goosebumps.
- Sneezing or running nose.
- Stomach pain or nausea.
How to Get Narcan
Narcan can be obtained from your local pharmacy, a community-based distribution program, a local public health group, or your local health department.1 The FDA is working to make naloxone more readily available as it is a critical tool for individuals, families, first responders, and communities in order to help reduce fatal opioid overdoses.8 To increase access to Narcan, the FDA approved an over-the-counter version of the nasal spray and included drug facts labels with image-based instructions for easier use.8
Can You Buy Narcan?
Yes, you can buy Narcan, but the cost varies.1 Check your local pharmacy to see the retail cost of Narcan in your area.1
Is Narcan Free?
While Narcan is typically not free, there are some resources and programs available to obtain naloxone for low to no cost. Some drug companies offer a cost assistance program to help you obtain naloxone for a reduced rate.1 Naloxone may be obtained at no cost through community-based distribution programs, local public health groups, or local health departments.1
Does Health Insurance Cover Naloxone Treatment?
Insurance plans may cover the cost of prescription naloxone for little to no co-pay. Check with your insurance company to see if naloxone is covered by your plan.1
Finding Opioid Addiction Rehab
If you or someone you know is experiencing opioid misuse or addiction, treatment is available. Effective treatment of opioid use disorders can help reduce fatal overdoses and can help overdose survivors live a healthier life.4
American Addiction Centers (AAC) offers a directory that can help you locate a drug and alcohol rehab center near you. Contact AAC today at to speak with an admissions navigator and learn more about the different levels of addiction treatment, such as detox, inpatient, outpatient, medication, or behavioral therapy.
AAC maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly using the form below if your health insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.
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