Will naloxone keep drug users from seeking treatment?
Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Feb 2, 2021.
There is no evidence that increased availability of naloxone prevents people from seeking treatment for an opioid use disorder. Naloxone is a short-acting drug used to reverse the effects of opioids. Brand names of naloxone are Narcan and Evzio.
Naloxone can be life-saving for people at risk of death from an opioid overdose, and this has dramatically increased availability of the medication. Some claim increased access may lead to a sense of security among opioid users and prevent them from seeking treatment. However, one 2013 study in Massachusetts found no significant difference in the rate of hospital visits or admissions for opioid use disorder between communities that had increased availability of naloxone and those that did not.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, most states have passed laws increasing availability and distribution of naloxone through pharmacies, community sites and emergency services. Increased availability of naloxone has decreased overdose deaths by up to 46%. Also, emergency medical providers in all states are trained to give naloxone.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration now urges medical providers to discuss the availability of naloxone with anyone at risk of an opioid overdose. This includes people who:
- Take a high dose of an opioid drug for chronic pain
- Have a history of an opioid overdose or hospital admission for opioid use
- May use alcohol or a benzodiazepine drug along with an opioid
- Have an opioid use disorder and have recently been released from prison or a treatment facility
Naloxone may be made available to anyone at high risk of an opioid overdose as well as their family members (or others who live in the same household). It can be given as an intranasal spray or by injection. A person may also self-administer naloxone with an autoinjector if they have taken an opioid and have difficulty breathing or staying awake.
A family member or emergency responder may administer naloxone if a person:
- Is unresponsive
- Has shallow and irregular breathing
- Has pinpoint pupils
- Has blue nose or lips
Naloxone is not an opioid. It is an opioid antagonist that works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain to block opioid drugs. Depressed breathing is the main danger from an opioid overdose. Naloxone blocks this effect. Naloxone is a short-acting drug, so 911 or other emergency medical care should be called immediately after it is given.
- National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Is naloxone accessible? June 2018. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/naloxone-accessible. [Accessed January 14, 2021].
- Walley AY, Xuan Z, Hackman HH, et al. Opioid overdose rates and implementation of overdose education and nasal naloxone distribution in Massachusetts: interrupted time series analysis. BMJ. 2013 Jan 31;346. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f174.
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA recommends health care professionals discuss naloxone with all patients when prescribing opioid pain relievers or medicines to treat opioid use disorder. July 23, 2020. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-recommends-health-care-professionals-discuss-naloxone-all-patients-when-prescribing-opioid-pain. [Accessed January 14, 2021].
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Naloxone. August 19, 2020. Available at: https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/naloxone. [Accessed January 11, 2021].
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