Over 3 million people in the United States struggle with an opioid use disorder. That number makes up almost 2% of the U.S. population, and includes heroin, addiction opioids, and other illicit drugs. At the same time, opioids contribute to nearly 70% of drug-related overdose deaths in the United States, or over 100,000 people in 2021. Naloxone is the most common drug used to treat opioid overdose.
This drug works by preventing opioids from binding to the receptors in the brain, creating a temporary period where the individual behaves as if they don’t have opioids in their system. As a result, it’s been used to prevent overdoses since the 1990s, and it has saved tens of thousands of lives since.
At Sober Solutions, Naloxone or its primary brand, Narcan, is a major part of our medicine toolkit. In addition, we use it as part of medication assisted therapy, where Naloxone and Suboxone form an essential part of treating cravings while eliminating risks for abuse.
If you’re considering carrying Naloxone or just want to know what the drug is before you start a MAT program, this article will help.
What is Naloxone?
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, primarily used to stop or prevent opioid overdoses. In medication-assisted treatment programs, it’s also used to prevent patients from using their drug to get high. Here, Naloxone is taken by mouth with a pill. Because Naloxone has poor oral availability, its impacts are very small, meaning that enough of the opioid in the medication is utilized to stop withdrawal symptoms. Then, if someone injects their medication instead, the naloxone takes full effect.
Naloxone works by preventing opioids from binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. If binding has already happened, Naloxone can force them to unbind. This means that someone with a physical addiction to opioids will go into withdrawal if they take a dose of Naloxone. However, that’s also why Naloxone can turn around overdoses.
How is Narcan Administered for Overdose Prevention
When someone goes into an overdose, Naloxone can save their life. In most cases, nasal spray Narcan is available without a prescription from drugstores and pharmacies. Here, you take the drug and spray it into the nose following the instructions on the bottle. Within 2-5 minutes, the drug should have stabilized that person’s breathing, reduced signs of overdose, and essentially “pulled them out of it”. At this point, they may also begin suffering from symptoms of overdose, with panic, anxiety, vomiting, and cold and flu symptoms.
It’s also crucial that you take them to the hospital or call an ambulance. Naloxone only works for about 20-30 minutes. An opioid can remain at overdose levels for several hours. This means that if you simply administer Naloxone and leave it, that person could go back into overdose once the Naloxone wears off.
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Are There Side Effects?
Naloxone is a remarkably safe drug compared to many alternatives used for the same purpose. However, it can still have very significant side effects. The most common and dangerous of those is sudden onset withdrawal. This means that the individual has an opioid dependency, and their body is suddenly reacting as though they have no opioids in their system.
Other symptoms include:
- Burning site around the nose
- Pain around the nose
- Hot flashes
In addition, a small percentage of people are allergic to Narcan. If you don’t know if the person using it is allergic, it’s important to call the ambulance at the same time or when administering the dose.
Medication Assisted Treatment at Sober Solutions
Naloxone is commonly mixed with methadone for medication-assisted treatment. At Sober Solutions, we use Suboxone, a 1:20 mixture of Methadone and Naloxone. This treatment is administered daily as an oral tablet or film. This allows the methadone to be absorbed, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms for the patient. But, with Naloxone included, it can’t be abused without causing withdrawal.
That makes medication-assisted treatment relatively safe for patients, even if they aren’t under full supervision when they go home.
Of course, not everyone wants or needs medication assisted maintenance therapy. Instead, your program will be assessed based on past experiences, based on your mental health, and based on your consultation with your doctor, our in-house doctor, and your psychiatrists and counselors at Sober Solutions. If therapy and treatment without a maintenance program is a better fit for you, that will be used instead.
Finally, Naloxone can be used by itself for maintenance. However, Sober Solutions does not use the drug in this way. That’s because it can cause severe problems with sudden onset withdrawal, including paranoia and major withdrawal symptoms. For that reason, we always offer significant mental health treatment and behavioral therapy before starting a maintenance program.
Are There Long-Term Side-Effects?
If you’re taking Naloxone as part of a long-term maintenance program, you probably want to know if there are side effects. Naloxone can have long-term side effects, especially when taken over the 3-6 months recommended for most maintenance programs.
Here, you might experience some tolerance. In addition, you might experience ongoing hot flashes or sweating. However, because the goal of a maintenance program is that the Naloxone doesn’t take effect, it’s unlikely you’d experience either in a noticeable amount unless you were abusing the medication.
Finally, Naloxone has no risk of abuse or addiction.
Who Can use Naloxone?
Naloxone and Narcan are available over the counter as Narcan and EVZIO in most pharmacies in the United States. For example, Walgreens and the Walmart pharmacy both offer this drug. In addition, there are multiple programs designed to help you afford Narcan if you can’t – so that you have it on-hand in case of an overdose.
If you want a maintenance program, you’ll need a prescription and supervision from an Accredited and Certified Opioid Treatment Program (OTP). This should involve medical screening, behavioral therapy, and counseling to help you resolve behavioral addiction, while the medication gives you the stability to stay clean and sober. In this case, you’ll normally have to check in with your provider at least once a week, and possibly every day for the duration of the program, ensuring you have the ongoing support to stay clean, to continue working on your recovery, and to benefit from your maintenance program.
Naloxone is a life saving drug and considered one of the most essential for modern healthcare problems. If you or a loved one is addicted to or struggling with opioid use, it could prevent an overdose. And, if you do get help, Naloxone is instrumental in turning opioids like methadone from abuse-risks to safe maintenance drugs that you can use unsupervised.
If you or a loved one would like more information about drug rehab, alcohol rehab, dual diagnosis rehab, or detox please contact us to speak in complete confidence with one of our experienced treatment advisors today.