Opioid overdoses claim around 90 American lives every day. Now, an opioid overdose antidote is available without a prescription at Walgreens and other national pharmacies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. In 2015, opioid overdose claimed 33,000 lives, and that number has grown each year since. Nearly half of all opioid overdoses involve prescription opioids, and the other half involve heroin. If you or someone you love abuses or is addicted to opioids, the risk of overdose is very high. The good news is that you can now pick up naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, at your local Walgreens or CVS pharmacy.
How Does Naloxone Work?
Naloxone is a prescription medication that blocks the effects of opioids to reverse an overdose. But how does naloxone work? Naloxone works by knocking the opioids out of the opioid receptors in the brain. When administered right away, the opioid overdose antidote enables you to wake someone up after an overdose.
Narcan, the most commonly available brand of naloxone, can be administered in two ways. It can be injected into the muscle of the arm, thigh, or buttocks, or it can be administered through a nasal spray device. Either way, Narcan typically works to revive an overdose victim in about five minutes. Repeated doses may be necessary if the individual still shows signs of overdose after the first dose or Narcan.
How Long Does Narcan Block Opiates?
So, how long does Narcan block opiates? The answer depends on how much heroin or prescription pills are in the body at the time Narcan is used. Narcan starts to wear off after about a half hour, and it’s typically out of the system within 90 minutes. Usually, within that time, the initial dose of opioids has been processed enough by the body that the overdose victim won’t stop breathing again once the naloxone wears off. But after a very large dose of opioids, or after dosing with a long-acting opiate like methadone, an individual may slip back into overdose after the antidote wears off, requiring another dose.
Is Narcan Safe?
Narcan only affects people who have overdosed on opioids. It won’t get you high. If it’s administered to someone who is on opioids but has not overdosed, Narcan will remove the opioid from the opioid receptors and send the individual into withdrawal. While this can be very uncomfortable, it’s not dangerous. If someone who is not on opioids takes Narcan, it will have no effect.
What Happens After a Narcan Dose?
Ideally, the first dose of Narcan will awaken the individual who overdosed. But medical attention is still needed. Narcan isn’t meant to be the sole treatment for overdose. Rather, it buys you time to call 911 and administer rescue breathing or other first aid until medical personnel arrive on the scene.
Signs of Opioid Overdose
There are three key symptoms to look for in an opioid overdose. Known as the “opioid overdose triad,” these symptoms are:
- Pinpoint pupils.
- Slowed or stopped breathing.
- Unconsciousness or non-responsiveness.
Slowed or stopped breathing can lead to hypoxia, or inadequate blood oxygen, in about three minutes, and this can cause permanent brain damage or death. The sooner you administer the opioid overdose antidote, the better the chances of survival and full recovery.
Where to Find Naloxone
Currently, pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS offer naloxone without a prescription in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Advocates of the opioid overdose antidote are committed to making naloxone available to anyone who needs it in all 50 states. Call your pharmacy to determine whether you can get Narcan without a prescription. If not, you can get a prescription from your primary care physician. Keep the Narcan where it’s easily accessible, and make sure you and other family members know how to use it.
Treatment is Essential
Getting help for an opioid addiction is the best way to prevent an opioid overdose. Treatment can help you or someone you love kick an opioid habit for good.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.