Naloxone: A drug that saves lives and reverses an opioid overdose | Health Focus SA

We’ve heard stories of people struggling with addiction who die when the drugs they get are unknowingly mixed with fentanyla synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

What is less often talked about are patients who overdose on painkillers legally prescribed by their doctor.

Overdoses involving prescription drugs

In 2019, an average of 38 people died every day overdoses involving prescription opioids. That’s over 14,000 lives lost in a single year.

Their medications may have included oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, or morphine. They could have been cancer patients who had no pain relief, so their doctors provided them with something stronger.

These may include patients struggling with extreme pain after a motor vehicle-related injury or surgery, taking multiple opioid killers that have combined to cause an overdose.

Naloxone for opioid medications

Although increased awareness and better monitoring by providers can prevent some deaths, many pharmacists and doctors also recommend a low-risk antidote called naloxone for patients taking opioid medications.

“Think about it like you would if you had a fire in your house,” said DeWayne Davidson, clinical pharmacy manager for University Health.

“You want to have a fire extinguisher available quickly, don’t you?” Same thing with naloxone. If you’re taking an opioid and there’s a potential risk of overdose, you want to have something available very quickly to reverse it,” Davidson explained.

What is naloxone?

Naloxone, better known by the brand name Narcanis a drug that works in just 30-90 seconds to reverse an opioid overdose and restore breathing.

How many types of naloxone are there?

It comes in two main forms: an easy-to-use nasal spray and a pre-filled injection that is injected into a muscle or under the skin. The drug quickly binds to opioid receptors and blocks the effects of the pain reliever.

Are there any side effects to naloxone?

Side effects are rare and giving it to someone who isn’t really overdosing won’t hurt them. Naloxone, however, is only effective when the person is having an adverse reaction to an opioid. It will not neutralize the effects of other drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine.

When to administer naloxone?

Davidson recommends anyone in contact with people who may be taking an opioid to make sure they have naloxone on hand. Let loved ones know if you are using pain medication and what they need to do to give naloxone quickly if needed. He says you should read the instructions for use so you know what to do before a seizure occurs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signs of opioid overdose to understand:

  • Small constricted “point pupils”
  • Fall asleep or lose consciousness
  • Slow, weak, or no breathing
  • Choking or gurgling noises
  • soft body
  • Cold, clammy, or discolored skin

Try to keep the person awake and on their side to prevent choking. Be aware that they may still need medical attention after naloxone is given.

“You want to call 911 immediately afterwards. You want to get emergency help right away,” Davidson said.

Availability and cost of naloxone

In Texas, you can get naloxone directly from a pharmacist, without a doctor’s visit or a prescription. If you’re paying out of pocket, the cost of Narcan is around $130 for two doses, but there are often more affordable options.

The State of Texas provides Narcan for free through the website although it may take 30 days or more for delivery.

Davidson says you can also speak with the pharmacist about coupons or discounts. University Health, for example, will accept your insurance to cover the costs. If you don’t have insurance, pharmacists will look for low-cost or no-cost alternatives to Narcan. The goal is to make sure everyone who needs it has it.

“You never know when there’s going to be an emergency, and you just want to have these things in your toolbox to help save lives,” Davidson said.

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