Given the rapid rise of opioid abuse and addiction in the US in recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of naloxone as a medication to prevent overdoses. Narcan, the common brand name of naloxone, is used to help those who have become increasingly addicted to prescription painkillers such as morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone and are misusing illegal drugs such and heroin and fentanyl. Recently, medical researchers have discovered other uses for Narcan, in addition to its effectiveness in preventing overdoses.
The Opioid Epidemic
According to experts, an estimated 10.3 million Americans over the age of 12 misused opioids in 2018. The majority of those, 9.9 million, abused and became addicted to prescription pain relief medications. Another 808,000 were heroin users.
Overdose is a serious concern. There were more than 47,600 overdose deaths directly related to opioids in 2017 alone. In 2016 and 2017, more than 130 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a contributing factor to the rise in opioid overdose deaths is an increasing number of individuals receiving higher doses of prescription opioids for long-term management of chronic pain. Even when taking their pain medications as prescribed, these patients are at increased risk of accidental overdose as well as drug-alcohol or drug-drug interactions with sedating medications, such as benzodiazepines (anxiety or sleep medications).
Signs of an Overdose
The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists signs to be aware of when someone potentially overdoses on opioids, including:
- Very small pupils
- Slow or shallow breathing
- An inability to speak
- Faint heartbeat
- Limp arms and legs
- Pale skin
- Purple lips and fingernails.
Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder
Given the alarming rates of overdoses, in 2015 the FDA approved the use of Narcan to block opioid receptor sites, which reverses the toxic effects of the overdose. Naloxone can be given by intranasal spray, or injected into the muscle, under the skin, or intravenously.
A medical professional can prescribe naloxone for Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) clients who are considered at risk for opioid overdose. Candidates include those who:
- Take high doses of opioids for long-term management of chronic pain
- Receive rotating opioid medication regimens
- Have been discharged from emergency medical care following opioid poisoning or intoxication
- Take certain extended-release or long-acting opioid medications
- Are completing mandatory opioid detoxification or abstinence programs.
Other Uses for Narcan
While Narcan was approved for use in reversing the effects of an opioid overdose, there are other uses for the medication. Naloxone was originally intended to produce a complete or partial reversal of opioid depression, including respiratory depression, induced by opioids and for diagnosis of suspected acute opioid overdosage.
Medical researchers have also found that Narcan may be useful as an effective agent in increasing blood pressure to manage a patient’s septic shock. Sepsis is an infection that reaches the bloodstream and causes inflammation in the body. Septic shock occurs when the patient’s blood pressure drops dangerously low. Narcan is used cautiously when treating septic shock, particularly in patients who may have developed opioid tolerance.
Narcan has not been approved by the FDA for treating seizures. However, it can be used in treating an overdose from the partial opioid Tramadol, which often causes seizures. In these cases, Narcan will reserve the effects of the opioid overdose.
Reversing Opioid Effects
When Narcan is effective in preventing an overdose, it works to block the effects of the opioids. This can actually cause sudden withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain
- Fever, sweating, body aches, weakness
- Tremors or shivering, fast heart rate, pounding heartbeats, increased blood pressure
- Feeling nervous, restless, or irritable
- Goosebumps, shivering
- Runny nose
Potential Side Effects
As with any medication, there are potential side effects associated with the use of Narcan, such as:
- Allergic reactions like skin rash, itching or hives, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
- Breathing problems
- Fast, irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Pain that was controlled by narcotic pain medicine.
Anyone can administer Narcan in the event of an opioid overdose. However, medical supervision will help to ensure that withdrawal symptoms and possible side effects are properly managed. Other uses for Narcan should be carefully monitored as well.
Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in Southern California
At Calming Goat, our team is made up of board-certified physicians from a variety of specialties and backgrounds, uniquely equipped to help you find true recovery from your addiction. We focus on healing the whole person, starting by addressing your physical dependence on drugs or alcohol. Our medical professionals then work with you to heal your mind, body, and spirit. We provide the types of medication assisted treatment you need, through a blend of medications and therapies, so you can experience true healing. Call (424) 376-3444 or contact us online to schedule your appointment today.