How to Use Narcan: A Complete Guide

Narcan, also known as naloxone, is a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. With the ongoing opioid epidemic in many parts of the world, knowledge of how to use Narcan has become increasingly important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 450,000 people died from an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2018 in the United States alone. In order to combat this crisis, many communities have made Narcan more readily available, and it’s important for individuals to understand how to use it properly. This comprehensive guide will provide everything you need to know about Narcan, including when to use it, how to administer it, what happens after administering it, where to get it, and more.

What is Narcan?

The History of Narcan

The history of Narcan dates back to the early 1960s when researchers first discovered the potential of naloxone, the active ingredient in Narcan, to reverse the effects of opioids. Initially used by hospitals and emergency responders, it wasn’t until decades later that Narcan became widely available to the public.

In recent years, the opioid crisis has brought Narcan into the spotlight as a critical tool in combatting the epidemic. With overdose deaths on the rise, the FDA expedited the approval process for Narcan in 2015, making it available without a prescription in many states.

But the need for Narcan extends beyond the current opioid crisis. In the 1990s, the heroin epidemic brought attention to the importance of naloxone as a life-saving drug. However, at that time, access to naloxone was limited to medical professionals, and it was not widely distributed to those who needed it most.

Today, Narcan is available in various forms, including nasal spray and auto-injectors, making it easy to administer by anyone, regardless of medical training. It has saved countless lives from opioid overdoses and has become an essential tool in harm reduction efforts.

As the opioid crisis continues to evolve and impact communities across the country, the history of Narcan reminds us of the importance of accessible and effective interventions to save lives.

How Narcan Works

Narcan, also known as naloxone, works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for regulating pain and pleasure sensations, as well as controlling breathing and heart rate.

When someone takes opioids, such as prescription painkillers or heroin, these drugs bind to the same receptors in the brain. This can lead to respiratory depression, where breathing becomes shallow and slow, and can eventually stop altogether.

This is where Narcan comes in. By binding to the same receptors as opioids, Narcan blocks the drugs from attaching to the brain cells. This reverses the effects of the opioids and restores normal breathing and heart function.

But how does Narcan actually work on a molecular level? When opioids bind to the receptor, they activate a signaling pathway that leads to decreased activity in the respiratory center of the brainstem. This causes a decrease in breathing rate and depth, which can become life-threatening during an overdose.

Narcan works by competing with opioids for binding to the receptor. When Narcan binds to the receptor instead of the opioid, it blocks the signaling pathway and allows the respiratory center to resume normal function.

It’s important to note that Narcan only works on opioid overdoses and will not have any effect on other types of drug overdoses or medical emergencies. It’s also crucial to seek medical attention immediately after administering Narcan, as its effects may wear off before the opioids do, leading to a potential re-overdose.

Overall, understanding how Narcan works is essential for anyone who may come into contact with opioids, whether as a patient, friend, family member, or first responder. By having a clear understanding of how Narcan functions, we can better equip ourselves to prevent and treat opioid overdoses and save lives.

When to Use Narcan

If you suspect someone is experiencing an opioid overdose, it’s crucial to act quickly and administer Narcan (naloxone) as soon as possible. Narcan is a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, but it’s most effective when used early on in the overdose.

There are several signs that someone may be experiencing an opioid overdose, including:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Blue or grayish skin
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Loss of consciousness or unresponsiveness
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Fingernails and lips turning blue or purple

If you notice any of these symptoms in someone who has recently used opioids, it’s important to call 911 immediately. In many states, Good Samaritan laws protect people who call 911 to report an overdose from arrest and prosecution for drug-related offenses.

Once you’ve called 911, it’s important to start administering Narcan if you have it available. If you don’t have Narcan, emergency responders will administer it when they arrive on the scene.

It’s important to remember that Narcan is not harmful if administered to someone who is not experiencing an opioid overdose. If you’re unsure whether someone is overdosing on opioids, it’s still better to administer Narcan and err on the side of caution.

In emergency situations, time is of the essence. Knowing the signs of an opioid overdose and when to use Narcan can help save lives.

How to Use Narcan

Step-by-Step Instructions for Injection

Step-by-Step Instructions for Injection

If you have a loved one who may be at risk of an opioid overdose, it is crucial to know how to administer Narcan through injection. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it properly.


Before administering Narcan, make sure you have the following items:

  • A Narcan nasal spray or injectable
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Gloves
  • A sharps container for needle disposal

Clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. Then, put on a pair of gloves and remove the Narcan from its packaging.


The standard dose for Narcan injection is 0.4mg, though some people may require a higher dose. Check the label or consult with a healthcare provider if you are unsure.

To administer the injection, first, locate the thigh muscle. Choose the outer part of the thigh because there are fewer veins and arteries in that area. Clean the area with an alcohol wipe and let it dry.

Next, remove the cap from the needle and hold the syringe like a pencil. Insert the needle into the thigh muscle at a 90-degree angle and slowly push in the plunger.

Needle Disposal

After administering the dose, immediately dispose of the needle in a sharps container. Do not touch the needle with your bare hands. If you don’t have a sharps container, use a hard plastic or metal container with a tight-fitting lid, such as an empty laundry detergent bottle.

Once you’ve successfully administered Narcan, call 911 and provide any necessary medical attention until help arrives.

In conclusion, Narcan can be a lifesaving tool in the event of an opioid overdose. By understanding these step-by-step instructions for injection, you’ll be prepared to act quickly and potentially save a life.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Nasal Spray

Step-by-Step Instructions for Nasal Spray

Narcan nasal spray is a form of naloxone that is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It is easy to use and can be administered by anyone, even if they have no medical training. In this section, we will provide step-by-step instructions for using Narcan nasal spray.


Before using Narcan nasal spray, it is important to check the expiration date on the packaging. If the expiration date has passed, do not use the medication. Once you have confirmed that the medication is not expired, remove it from the packaging and make sure the nozzle is clean and free of debris.


The standard dose for Narcan nasal spray is 4mg/0.1ml. This means that each spray contains 4 milligrams of naloxone. To administer the medication, hold the nozzle with your thumb on the bottom and your first and middle fingers on either side of the nozzle.

Nozzle Insertion

To use Narcan nasal spray, follow these steps:

  1. First, tilt the person’s head back slightly and support their neck with one hand.
  2. Gently insert the tip of the nozzle into one nostril until your fingers on either side of the nozzle meet the person’s nose.
  3. Press the plunger firmly to release the medication.
  4. Repeat the process in the other nostril.

It is important to note that some people may experience withdrawal symptoms after receiving Narcan nasal spray. These symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, sweating, and a rapid heartbeat. However, these symptoms are temporary and generally subside within a few minutes.

In conclusion, Narcan nasal spray is a potentially life-saving medication that can be used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. By following these simple steps for preparation, dosing, and nozzle insertion, you can help someone in an emergency situation and potentially save their life.

What Happens After Administering Narcan

After administering Narcan (naloxone), the reversal of overdose symptoms can be rapid and dramatic. It’s important to note, however, that Narcan is not a cure for opioid addiction and does not address the underlying issues that led to the overdose in the first place.

While Narcan can save someone’s life in an emergency situation, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately after administering it. This is because Narcan’s effects are temporary, and the individual may experience a recurrence of symptoms once the medication wears off. Additionally, even if the overdose appears to have been reversed, there may still be long-term effects on the body and brain.

Medical professionals stress the importance of seeking follow-up care after an overdose, including counseling and treatment for addiction. It’s also recommended that individuals who have experienced an overdose carry a Narcan kit with them at all times and have someone nearby who knows how to administer it in case of another emergency.

In terms of the long-term effects of Narcan, research is ongoing. Some studies suggest that repeated use of Narcan may lead to decreased effectiveness over time or even reverse tolerance to opioids, making future overdoses more dangerous. However, these findings are not conclusive, and the benefits of using Narcan to save lives far outweigh any potential risks.

Overall, while Narcan can reverse the immediate effects of an opioid overdose, it’s crucial to seek medical attention and follow-up care to address the underlying issues and prevent future incidents.

Where to Get Narcan

Cost and Insurance Coverage

One of the most pressing concerns when it comes to accessing Narcan is its cost. However, there are options available for those who may struggle with affordability. Medicaid is a government insurance program that provides coverage for low-income individuals and families. Depending on your state’s policies, Medicaid may cover the cost of Narcan or other naloxone products.

Private insurance plans may also cover the cost of Narcan. It is important to check with your insurance provider to see if Narcan is covered under your plan. Some insurance providers may require a copayment or deductible for Narcan, so it is essential to understand your plan’s details before purchasing.

For those without insurance or who need additional financial assistance, community resources are available. Many communities offer free or low-cost Narcan through harm reduction programs or public health initiatives. Additionally, some pharmacies offer discounts on Narcan for those without insurance.

Affordability should never be a barrier to accessing life-saving medication like Narcan. If you are struggling to afford Narcan, do not hesitate to explore your options and reach out to community resources for assistance.

Training and Education

Training and Education

In addition to knowing how to administer Narcan, it’s also important to have proper training and education on overdose prevention. CPR classes and overdose prevention training can provide valuable skills and knowledge in saving someone’s life during an emergency.

CPR Classes

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a technique used to keep the heart pumping blood to the body when it has stopped due to a cardiac arrest or other medical condition. Knowing how to perform CPR can help save a life in many situations, including an opioid overdose. By taking CPR classes, you can learn how to perform chest compressions and rescue breathing, which can help keep someone alive until medical professionals arrive.

Overdose Prevention Training

Overdose prevention training can teach you how to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose and how to respond quickly and effectively. This training covers topics such as administering Narcan, calling 911, and providing care until medical help arrives. Overdose prevention training can be offered by healthcare providers, community organizations, and public health departments. It’s important to take this training to prepare yourself for an emergency situation where someone may need your help.

By taking CPR classes and overdose prevention training, you can become better equipped to handle an opioid overdose emergency. These trainings can give you the confidence and skills you need to act quickly and save a life.
As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities worldwide, knowing how to use Narcan can be the difference between life and death for someone experiencing an overdose. We have covered the key points in this comprehensive guide, including what Narcan is, when to use it, how to administer it, and where to get it. Remember, Narcan is a powerful tool that can save lives, but it’s essential to seek medical attention even after administering it. Always call 911 in case of an emergency. By learning how to use Narcan and sharing this knowledge with others, we can all play a part in preventing overdose deaths and helping those struggling with addiction. Let’s work together to make a difference and save lives.

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