Narcan (Naloxone)

What is Naloxone?

Naloxone is a life-saving drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. Narcan is a brand name for this drug. There are now other formulations and brand names for naloxone, but people may still use the word “Narcan” to refer to any naloxone formulation.

  • It only works on opioids; it has no effect on someone who has not taken opioids.
  • It cannot be used to get high and is not addictive.
  • It can be easily and safely administered by people without medical training.
  • Bad reactions to naloxone are rare and it is safe to give to anyone, including children and pregnant women.
    • When naloxone is used on a pregnant woman, there is a risk of miscarriage due to opioid withdrawal. Pregnant women who have overdosed should get medical help right away.

How Naloxone works in the body

Naloxone attaches to the same brain receptors as opioids, but more strongly. Naloxone kicks off the opioids and “takes over” the receptors, causing opioid withdrawal. This restores breathing and consciousness in about 2-5 minutes.

When someone wakes up after naloxone, they may feel some symptoms of opioid withdrawal like pain, sweating, nausea, or vomiting. The person may also feel confused, anxious or slightly agitated. Rarely are people combative or violent.

When naloxone wears off in about 30-90 minutes, any opioids still in the brain can return to the receptors. The person may stop breathing again. It is important to call 911 anytime someone might be having an overdose and for the person to be monitored in case overdose symptoms return once the naloxone wears off.

Naloxone will not reverse the effects of other drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, xylazine, alcohol, or benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax®, Klonopin® and Valium®). But naloxone can still block the effect of opioids (and reverse the overdose) even if the person has also taken one or more of these other drugs.