According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 107,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2021. Opioids were involved in over 80,000 of those deaths.
In an effort to reduce the number of overdose deaths, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently voted unanimously to make Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal drug, available to be sold over the counter.
Making Narcan available without a prescription may save thousands of lives, but there are some notable downsides to making this medication widely available.
People with opioid addiction can seek long-term recovery at a substance abuse treatment center that offers science-backed rehab services.
How Narcan Works To Reverse An Opioid Overdose
Narcan, also known by the generic name naloxone, is an opioid antagonist made by the pharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions.
It is considered a safe and effective way to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, and it works by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and blocking the effects of other opioids.
When used quickly, naloxone can restore breathing in a person whose respiration has slowed or stopped due to an opioid overdose.
Symptoms of an opioid overdose include:
- blue-tinged lips, gums, or fingers
- irregular or slow pulse
- limp body
- shallow breathing or no breathing
If someone is exhibiting signs of an opioid overdose, it’s important to immediately call 911. Then administer Narcan if it’s available and stay with the person until help arrives.
Narcan will have no effect on someone who has not taken a lethal dose of opioids.
How Narcan Is Administered
Narcan is administered as a nasal spray or injected with a needle into an upper arm or thigh muscle, under the skin, or directly into a vein.
When using injectable Narcan, the proper dose is typically drawn from a vial into a syringe. There are, however, single-dose, prefilled syringes that are also available for use.
The nasal spray form of Narcan is a prefilled device that is sprayed into the nostril while the overdosing person lies on their back.
Naloxone only works in the body for 30 to 90 minutes, and a person may need multiple doses administered, particularly when highly potent opioids are used.
Pros And Cons Of Making Narcan Available Over The Counter
While the pros of making Narcan widely available are extensive, there are also concerns among some healthcare providers about how OTC naloxone may affect addiction treatment.
Advantages Of Over-The-Counter Narcan
If the FDA approves the over-the-counter Narcan nasal spray, it could be an effective weapon in the battle against opioid drug abuse.
The biggest and most important pro is that it would save many lives and give people the chance to seek the treatment they need.
OTC Narcan would save lives by:
- removing the stigma of drug abuse as a barrier to care, as the purchaser would not have to interact with a pharmacist to get it
- being accessible and easy to use, even for people with no medical training
- treating overdoses from all types of opioids
Another pro is that it is impossible to abuse Narcan.
Disadvantages Of Over-The-Counter Narcan
Some people have raised concerns that having Narcan available for OTC use would limit the ability of healthcare providers to intervene when a person has a substance use disorder.
Additionally, the price of naloxone may prove to be prohibitive for many people if it becomes widely available.
So far, the FDA has agreed that the need for measures to address the epidemic of opioid overdoses in the United States far outweighs any concerns about making a safe medication available OTC.
Opioid Addiction Treatment Programs
Dependence and addiction are very serious and can easily lead to fatal overdose, particularly in the case of fentanyl abuse and the use of other highly potent opioids.
Receiving evidence-based treatment at a rehab center can address the underlying causes of substance abuse and help people reach lasting sobriety.
Behavioral health services may include:
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- opioid detoxification
- dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
- 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
- behavioral therapy
Increased access to overdose medications such as Narcan and reputable drug rehab programs are the most effective ways to reduce the instances of addiction and overdose death.
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Published on March 1, 2023
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- CNN Health
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- National Public Radio (NPR
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)