The proper name for a narcotic is an opioid. Naloxone and naltrexone are two of the most commonly used opioid antagonists or narcotic reversal agents.
Opioid antagonists can block and even reverse the effects of opioid drugs, including the effects of an overdose.
They do this by
Once attached, they produce no response. The more antagonists that attach to opioid receptors, the less effect an opioid drug can have on the body.
Narcan has approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s usually easy for people without medical training to provide it. If you’re providing Narcan, lay the person who needs it on their back with their head tilted up while you spray the nasal spray into one nostril.
Narcan usually works quickly —within 2–3 minutes —but the naloxone ingredient only works between 30 and 90 minutes. It’s important to call local emergency services if you suspect someone’s experiencing an opioid overdose, as they may require further treatment if the opioids have remained in the body after this period.
People may show opioid withdrawal symptoms shortly after receiving naloxone. These may include:
- nausea or vomiting
- dizziness or weakness
- rapid heart rate
Narcan is available over the counter at pharmacies and healthcare facilities, so you don’t need a prescription.
Hospitals and harm reduction clinics in your area may also offer Narcan for free or at a low cost.
You can give more than one dose of Narcan if necessary. The manufacturer advises waiting 2–3 minutes after the first dose to see if the person wakes up or responds. If they don’t, you can give them another dose every 2–3 minutes until the person wakes up.
Naloxone is also available as an injection. It works in the same way as the nasal spray, rapidly helping someone who has overdosed on opioids or has potentially overdosed and is showing breathing difficulties or not responding.
It may prompt the same withdrawal symptoms and have the same temporary effect, so emergency medical intervention is also necessary.
ZIMHI, the official name of the naloxone injection, is injectable under the skin, into muscle, or into veins. The muscle is the most common injection site.
A doctor can prescribe ZIMHI to the person taking opioids or someone who lives with them.
People with commercial insurance can get a free prescription for the naloxone injection.
If signs of an overdose come back after someone receives ZIMHI, you can give them further injections with a new syringe every 2–3 minutes until emergency help arrives.
Whether you’re dependent on opioids yourself and looking for support or need more information for a loved one, there are lots of resources available.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a national helpline that’s available 24/7. It’s completely confidential and offers advice for individuals and families. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Narcotic reversal agents can help reverse an opioid overdose or treat opioid use disorder. Some are available over the counter. Others require a prescription or a medical practitioner to provide them.
Medications aren’t the only options available to help treat opioid dependence. Counseling and behavioral support are also often necessary for the most effective treatment plan.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.