What is Narcan and How Can Narcan be Used?
Narcan has been a hot topic of discussion in recent months, but what is Narcan exactly, and what can Narcan be used for?
When Narcan makes the news, all too often it does so in murky circumstances. In July 2018, singing sensation Demi Lovato was rushed to hospital following an apparent drug overdose. Evidence from the 911 call suggests that an emergency application of Narcan revived Demi Lovato.
Another high profile story – this time without the happy ending – involved the partner of entrepreneur and television personality Bethenny Frankel. Banker Dennis Shields collapsed in August 2018 of a suspected drug overdose and was reported to have asked for Narcan during his final moments. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the 51-year-old tragically passed away before responders could save him.
When faced with these reports, we might be forgiven for jumping to one or two conclusions about what is Narcan. One: it is a miracle drug with, quite literally, life-saving properties. Two: it is a medication with applications which are shrouded in the mysterious and unpleasant world of drug abuse.
While both of these conclusions are true to an extent, they don’t quite tell the whole story of Narcan, and they do not adequately answer the question ‘what can Narcan be used for?’ To answer this, we will first need to explore what Narcan is exactly in more detail.
What Is Narcan?
Narcan is the brand name of Naloxone, which is also marketed under the brand name Evzio. It is a medicine which is used to treat anyone overdosing on an opioid. This means anyone who has recently used illegal drugs such as heroin or abused a prescription medication such as morphine, hydrocodone, or oxycodone, can benefit or even be revived by Narcan.
The high profile story of Demi Lovato and the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Dennis Shields represent Narcan as a dramatic revitalizing drug, administered via an epi-pen injection in a manner reminiscent of a Hollywood movie. This is an accurate representation but demonstrates the extreme end of the scale. Narcan can also be administered via the nostrils when used to combat less severe reactions to opioids.
Narcan is a relatively fast-acting drug, and effects should be visible in between two to five minutes. Unconscious patients should have begun to wake up and be responsive within five minutes. If this is not the case, a second dose of Narcan can be administered. Rescue breathing should be used alongside both doses of Narcan in an effort to revive the patient before any serious damage occurs.
Anyone can administer a dose – or doses – of Narcan, and the drug is considered to be both safe and highly effective for its purpose. However, it is a good idea to provide training and information to anyone who may need to use it, for example, caregivers within a facility, or a loved one who is looking after an at-risk individual.
While the drug’s profile has recently been raised by a slew of news stories, the medication itself is nothing new and has been used by professionals for decades.
Clearing Up the Myths Surrounding Narcan
As with many medications – particularly those with properties as potentially life-changing, or life-saving, as Narcan – there are myths surrounding its properties. We have covered two of these above, but it is important to provide possible users with all of the facts relating to such a drug.
Myth Number One: “Narcan is a miracle cure which makes opioid use safe.”
This myth is demonstrably NOT true. While Narcan can be described as a miracle drug, it certainly DOES NOT make opioid use safe. Narcan can be used to revive those suffering from opioid abuse symptoms – both related to illegal drugs and to prescription medication – and, in fact, it is designed to do so, but it is NOT intended as a drug abuse ‘supplement.’
Instead, it is designed as an emergency measure. If someone you know has a drug overdose – having taken an opioid such as heroin or morphine – then Narcan can save their life if administered in time and can prevent many of the long-term psychological and physical effects of surviving an overdose. However, as we have seen from the tragic case of Dennis Shields, this is not always the case.
Having a supply of Narcan as a precaution, or as a means of dealing with and protecting someone at risk of overdosing, is a responsible use of the drug. Approaching Narcan as a way to support a drug habit by minimizing the overdose risk is certainly not.
Myth Number Two: “Narcan is associated with drug users and drug abuse, and purchasing it will harm my reputation.”
This is certainly not the case. While Narcan is developed as a means of combating the symptoms of overdose and of giving overdosing individuals a second chance at life, this does not mean its use is characterized by drug abuse.
There are many professions and many personal situations in which Narcan can be a lifesaver.
- If you work as a carer for vulnerable people, providing home-based care, carrying a supply of Narcan plus the necessary equipment to administer it, can save the lives of the individuals you work with
- If you provide in-home care for a loved one who has a history of drug abuse, Narcan can provide critical peace of mind while you support your loved one on their journey towards freedom from addiction
- If you work in a care home, homeless shelter, or another facility in which opioid usage is a genuine danger, having Narcan/Naxolene on site is vital
- If you have symptoms of an opioid allergy, carrying Narcan alongside a medical alert bracelet can make the difference between life and death
- If you work in the nightlife or entertainment industry, in which drug use can be a real factor, having Narcan on hand can save the lives of patrons who make bad choices
- If you have a history of drug abuse yourself and are serious about moving beyond this, keeping a supply of Narcan nearby can help you build the peace of mind and confidence you need to succeed in your battle
These are just a few of the situations in which Narcan can provide a serious benefit, demonstrating the wide-ranging potential of this highly effective medication.
Narcan (Naxolene) FAQ
As well as answering the simple question of what is Narcan Narcan can be used for, it is important for those interested in purchasing the drug to understand precisely how to use the medication and what its effects are.
With this in mind, we have created this easy to use FAQ to help you get to grips with Narcan and what it can potentially mean for patients. Don’t forget to get in touch with our team with any remaining questions.
How does Narcan help to reverse overdose symptoms?
Opioids naturally slow the breathing of an individual. In the case of an overdose, breathing can be slowed to a dangerous level and can even stop altogether, leading to internal organ damage and eventually death.
Narcan works to reverse this potentially catastrophic action by stimulating breathing and waking the patient up within a few minutes. This can occur even when the patient has stopped breathing altogether, although those administering Narcan should be aware that acting sooner rather than later is vital.
How can Narcan be administered?
- Through the nose
Narcan is extracted from the container via a syringe. A specifically designed atomizer is then placed onto the syringe, and the drug is then squirted into each of the patient’s nostrils. This method is often used by first responders, although bystanders who are less familiar with the drug are recommended to use the intramuscular method.
- Injected directly into the muscle, and into the bloodstream
In emergencies, Narcan is injected directly into the muscle of the victim, usually via the upper arm or deltoid muscle. Using this method, Narcan is extracted from the container in the same way as discussed above – via the syringe.
In extremely urgent cases, it is possible to inject Narcan without first removing the clothing of the patient.
Is Narcan safe?
Narcan is considered to be safe by medical practitioners in the United States and has been deemed suitable for use by the general population. Purchasers of Narcan will be able to store the drug in their own homes or workplace or carry it on their person.
However, Narcan is a controlled substance and should be handled with care. Up until recently, you needed a prescription to purchase Narcan,
What other precautions should I take when using Narcan?
Narcan is a highly effective medication and all testing and research points to the drug being highly useful in saving the lives of patients who have suffered an overdose of an opioid substance. In most cases, administering the drug in one of the two ways listed above will be enough, and a single dose is usually sufficient to revive the patient in less than five minutes.
However, as with any potential life-saving medication, it is important for users to do their utmost to ensure that the dose’s efficacy is maximized. This is quite literally a matter of life and death in many cases, so it is important that you make sure to adhere to the following precautions.
- Do not be complacent
The first precaution is a simple one: don’t be complacent and don’t assume that everything has been taken care of simply because the dose has been delivered. If you are with another person, make sure that they dial 911 and explain the situation to the operator immediately, while you are administering the dose. If you are on your own, then you must first administer the Narcan dose, and then immediately contact the emergency services.
In many cases, the patient will still need treatment, even after the dose has been administered, and the patient’s life may still be in danger. This is why calling 911 is so vital, even if you think you have the situation in hand.
- Stay with the patient and monitor their signs
Do not leave the patient alone after an overdose. The physical symptoms of an overdose may return, which can cause severe damage to the body or even death, or the underlying psychological implications of an overdose may cause the patient to relapse.
To prevent this, stay with the patient and monitor them until emergency assistance arrives, or until they are safely in the hospital.
- Be prepared to administer a second dose
Narcan may require a second dose in order to be truly effective. While most patients will begin to wake up after only a single dose, and their breathing will return to normal. You can not assume that this will always be the case.
If breathing has not accelerated back to a normal rate after around five minutes, administer a second dose. This, in combination with the efforts of the first responders, could provide the patient with the life-saving boost they need.
- Consider the long-term
What has caused the patient to overdose? Are they in line to receive the long-term care they need to beat their drug addiction or to reduce their tendency towards risky behaviors? This is something which needs to be considered.
Not everyone who uses Narcan to revive an overdose victim will be in the position to provide the ongoing assistance and support they need. However, it is important to try your best to make sure that this is the case in the long term.