Opioid overdoses have become increasingly common over the last decade with the introduction of fentanyl into almost all types of illicit opioids as a cutting agent. This type of overdose can lead to respiratory failure, brain damage, and death. Thankfully, there is a medication available to reverse the fatal effects of opioid overdoses in the form of naloxone. This medication has become more widely available over the last few years and may very well save a life if used in time.
Naloxone is the name of the medication but a common brand name of this medication is Narcan, which people may be more familiar with. Naloxone is also present in Suboxone, a medication that is commonly prescribed to minimize opioid withdrawal symptoms. While naloxone does not affect withdrawal symptoms itself, it does make it difficult or even impossible to get high on opioids while naloxone is in someone’s system.
The way naloxone works is fairly simple and very effective at reversing opioid overdose and even opioid intoxication. This medication binds to the same receptors in the brain and body that opioids do. Unsurprisingly, these receptors are known as “opioid receptors” and while naloxone binds to them, it does not activate them in the same way that opioids do, thus it does not produce euphoric effects.
While opioids are known as opioid “agonists” since they stimulate these receptors, naloxone is known as an opioid receptor “antagonist.” Naloxone will bind to the same receptors as opioids, but it has a MUCH stronger binding affinity, or pull, for these receptors than any opioid drug does. This means that if opioids are present in the receptors when naloxone is used, it will literally displace the opioids and take their place, effectively neutralizing their effects for a time. This is only temporary, however, as naloxone has a much shorter half-life than most opioids.
Once naloxone is used, the opioids will be temporarily displaced from opioid receptors in the body, but since naloxone does not last as long as most opioids, they will outlast this medication and return to the receptors once the naloxone has been metabolized. In practice, this could cause someone to wake up from an overdose for a while, but as the naloxone wears off, they may relapse into unconsciousness. It is extremely important to seek medical help for someone who has recently used naloxone for an opioid overdose.
Thankfully, access to naloxone is increasing and improving. Not only access to the medication itself, but also to training courses and classes, so that someone knows exactly how and when to use this medication. If someone is experiencing an overdose and uses naloxone, it may well buy enough time for emergency medical help to arrive and save their life.
In addition to naloxone access improving, there have also been major legislative changes in the form of “Good Samaritan” laws that protect anyone who calls for emergency help in the event of an overdose. These laws vary from state to state, but in many states, a person who calls for medical help is protected from prosecution even if they are high themselves or have personal-use quantities of drugs on them. These laws remove many of the hurdles that made people second-guess calling the police or EMS when someone they were with was overdosing.
Before someone can use naloxone effectively, they need to know what they’re doing. Some helpful resources for naloxone training can be found at different government, medical, or community sites across the country. There are also some nationwide naloxone education resources that include naloxone training, where to find naloxone, and information about Good Samaritan laws in each state. Some of these resources include:
NEXT Distro: This national naloxone access site provides locations to find naloxone, information on Good Samaritan laws in each state, and a wide variety of ways to get involved in harm reduction and overdose prevention.
Get Naloxone Now: A naloxone education and access website, they provide online training classes for safe and effective naloxone use as well as places to find naloxone near you.
Narcan.com: A brand name of naloxone, Narcan is one of the most common forms of naloxone available. Their website provides information about how to get Narcan through insurance and how to get it without a prescription.
The number of overdoses in America is still on the rise, but thankfully more and more tools are becoming available for people to fight back. If we take responsibility and get educated, informed, and equipped for overdose prevention, each and every one of us can play a role in reducing the number of people that die each year from opioid overdoses. Addiction is a subtle foe, and it may be a friend or family member of yours that may live or die depending on a bystander being prepared to do what is necessary to save their life.
Guest Author Bio
Mike Smeth is a purpose-driven entrepreneur that focuses his creative energy towards making trusted addiction recovery resources accessible to as many people as possible. Check out his personal website for more information about Mike and the causes he works to support.
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