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What is Narcan and Where to Get It: A Lifesaving Medication for Overdose

Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT

Welcome to the California Prime Recovery blog, your go-to resource for addiction treatment and recovery. In this blog post, we will discuss a crucial medication called Narcan, which can save lives in the event of an opioid overdose. We will explore what Narcan is, how it works, and where you can obtain it. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, this information could be life changing. Let’s dive in.

What is Narcan?

Narcan is a brand name for naloxone, a medication used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription pain medications, can depress the central nervous system and respiratory function, leading to overdose, which can be fatal if not addressed promptly.

Key Points about Narcan (Naloxone):

  1. Mechanism of Action:

    • Naloxone is an opioid receptor antagonist, meaning it binds to opioid receptors in the brain and blocks the effects of opioids. It can reverse the life-threatening respiratory depression caused by opioid overdose.
  2. Administration:

    • Narcan is typically administered as a nasal spray or injection. The nasal spray version is user-friendly and can be administered by bystanders, including family members, friends, or first responders.
  3. Rapid Reversal:

    • Naloxone acts quickly, and its effects are usually seen within minutes. This rapid reversal can be crucial in saving the life of someone experiencing an opioid overdose.
  4. Emergency Use:

    • Narcan is primarily used as an emergency intervention for opioid overdoses. It does not treat the underlying cause of addiction but serves as a critical tool in preventing fatalities.

How does Narcan work?

Narcan, or naloxone, works by rapidly reversing the effects of opioids on the central nervous system, specifically targeting opioid receptors in the brain. Here’s how it works:

  1. Opioid Receptor Antagonist:

    • Naloxone is classified as an opioid receptor antagonist. This means it binds to the same receptors in the brain that opioids, such as heroin or fentanyl, bind to. However, naloxone does not activate these receptors like opioids do.
  2. Competitive Binding:

    • Naloxone competes with opioids for binding to the opioid receptors. When administered, naloxone binds more strongly to the receptors than opioids do.
  3. Blocking Opioid Effects:

    • By binding to the opioid receptors, naloxone effectively blocks the effects of opioids. Opioids depress the central nervous system, leading to slowed breathing and other life-threatening symptoms during an overdose. Naloxone reverses these effects.
  4. Rapid Onset of Action:

    • Naloxone acts very quickly. When administered, it displaces opioids from the receptors and rapidly restores normal respiratory function. This quick action is crucial in preventing fatal outcomes of opioid overdose.
  5. Duration of Action:

    • The effects of naloxone are relatively short-lived compared to some opioids. This means that while naloxone can rapidly reverse an overdose, its effects may wear off before the opioids are fully metabolized. It is essential for individuals who have received naloxone to seek emergency medical attention promptly.
  6. Multiple Administration Routes:

    • Naloxone is available in different formulations, including intramuscular injections and nasal sprays. The nasal spray version, in particular, is user-friendly and can be administered by bystanders, including family members, friends, or first responders.

Naloxone is a critical tool in the response to opioid overdoses and has saved many lives. However, it’s important to note that naloxone is not a treatment for opioid addiction.

Types of Narcan

Narcan refers to a specific brand name for naloxone, a medication used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Naloxone is available in different formulations, and while Narcan is one of the well-known brands, there are various types and brands of naloxone products. Here are some common types of naloxone formulations:

  1. Narcan Nasal Spray:

    • Narcan Nasal Spray is a user-friendly formulation of naloxone that comes in a nasal spray device. This allows for easy administration by bystanders, including family members, friends, or first responders. The nasal spray version is designed to be administered intranasally.
  2. Generic Naloxone Nasal Spray:

    • In addition to brand-name Narcan, generic versions of naloxone nasal spray are available. These generic formulations contain the same active ingredient (naloxone) and are used for the same purpose—to rapidly reverse opioid overdose.
  3. Injectable Naloxone:

    • Injectable naloxone formulations are available in vials or pre-filled syringes. These formulations are administered via intramuscular or intravenous injection. Injectable naloxone may be used in healthcare settings or by trained individuals.
  4. Evzio Auto-Injector:

    • Evzio is another brand of naloxone that comes in an auto-injector device. Similar to the concept of an EpiPen for allergic reactions, Evzio is designed to be easily used by laypersons in emergency situations.
  5. Generic Injectable Naloxone:

    • Generic versions of injectable naloxone are available. These formulations are equally effective at reversing opioid overdose and are used when intramuscular or intravenous administration is appropriate.

How Do You Administer Narcan?

Using Narcan (naloxone) is relatively straightforward, and the specific instructions may vary based on the formulation (nasal spray, injectable) and brand. Here are general guidelines for using Narcan in its commonly available nasal spray form:

Narcan Nasal Spray:

  1. Recognize Signs of Opioid Overdose:

    • Identify the signs of opioid overdose, including unconsciousness, unresponsiveness, slow or no breathing, and pinpoint pupils.
  2. Call for Emergency Assistance:

    • Dial emergency services (911 or local emergency number) immediately to request professional medical assistance.
  3. Prepare the Narcan Nasal Spray:

    • Remove the Narcan nasal spray from its packaging.
    • Hold the device with your thumb on the bottom of the plunger and two fingers on the nozzle.
  4. Administer the Narcan Nasal Spray:

    • Position the person on their back.
    • Tilt their head back slightly, supporting the neck with one hand.
    • Gently insert the tip of the nozzle into one nostril until your fingers touch the bottom of the person’s nose.
    • Press the plunger firmly to release the spray into the nostril.
  5. Administer Second Dose (if available):

    • If there is no improvement in 2-3 minutes or if the person’s breathing remains inadequate, administer a second dose in the other nostril using a new Narcan nasal spray, if available.
  6. Continue Monitoring:

    • Continue to monitor the person’s vital signs and provide any additional doses if necessary while awaiting professional medical help.

It’s important to follow the specific instructions provided with the Narcan product you have, as there may be variations in administration techniques or dosage. Additionally, seek professional medical attention for the person who has overdosed, even if Narcan has been administered successfully, as the effects of Narcan may wear off before the effects of the opioids.


Narcan Side Effects

Here are some potential side effects of Narcan:

  1. Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms:

    • The most common side effects of Narcan result from the rapid reversal of opioid effects and may include withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, sweating, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, restlessness, irritability, and agitation.
  2. Increased Blood Pressure:

    • Narcan may cause a sudden increase in blood pressure, especially in individuals with pre-existing hypertension.
  3. Tachycardia (Fast Heart Rate):

    • An increased heart rate (tachycardia) is a possible side effect of Narcan administration.
  4. Nasal Irritation (Nasal Spray):

    • For formulations administered as a nasal spray, some individuals may experience nasal irritation, discomfort, or congestion.
  5. Pulmonary Edema (Rare):

    • In rare cases, administration of naloxone has been associated with pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs).

It’s important to remember that the side effects of Narcan are generally short-lived and temporary.

Where Can I Get Narcan?


In recent years, there has been a growing effort to make Narcan more accessible to the general public. Many pharmacies now offer Narcan without a prescription, allowing individuals to obtain this life-saving medication conveniently. If you’re unsure whether your local pharmacy carries Narcan, it’s advisable to call ahead and inquire.

Community Health Centers

Community health centers and addiction treatment facilities often provide Narcan training and distribute the medication to individuals at risk of opioid overdose or their loved ones. These organizations aim to empower communities and equip them with the necessary tools to respond effectively to emergencies.

Local Health Departments

Another resource for obtaining Narcan is your local health department. They may organize outreach programs, training sessions, or distribution events where Narcan is provided to those who need it. Check their website or contact them directly to find out about upcoming events or available resources.

Online Resources

Various online platforms and organizations offer Narcan for purchase. These platforms typically require customers to complete a brief training or provide educational materials to ensure proper understanding and use of the medication. Be cautious when purchasing online and ensure that the source is reputable and reliable.

Narcan is a vital medication that can save lives in the event of an opioid overdose. By understanding what Narcan is, how it works, and where to obtain it, you can play a crucial role in preventing fatalities and supporting individuals on their journey to recovery. California Prime Recovery is committed to providing resources and information to help those affected by addiction. Remember, timely intervention can make all the difference. Don’t wait—be prepared to save a life.

How Much Does Narcan Cost?

The cost of Narcan, or naloxone, can vary depending on factors such as the formulation (nasal spray, injectable, etc.), the brand (Narcan or generic), and the specific region or country. Additionally, access to naloxone has been a focus of public health initiatives, and efforts have been made to increase affordability and availability.

Here are some general considerations regarding the cost of Narcan:

  1. Narcan Nasal Spray:

    • The cost of Narcan Nasal Spray may vary, but it is generally available for purchase over the counter in many pharmacies without a prescription. Prices may range from $20 to $150 or more per unit, depending on the location and specific brand.
  2. Generic Naloxone Nasal Spray:

    • Generic versions of naloxone nasal spray are often available at a lower cost compared to brand-name Narcan. Prices can vary, and some pharmacies or community programs may offer lower-cost or subsidized options.
  3. Injectable Naloxone:

    • Injectable naloxone, available in vials or pre-filled syringes, may have different costs. The pricing may also be influenced by factors such as the specific brand and the quantity purchased.
  4. Insurance Coverage:

    • In some cases, insurance plans may cover the cost of naloxone. It’s advisable for individuals to check with their insurance providers to understand coverage options.
  5. Community Programs and Access Initiatives:

    • Many regions have implemented programs to increase access to naloxone, often providing it at reduced or no cost. Community organizations, health departments, and harm reduction initiatives may distribute naloxone as part of their efforts to address the opioid crisis.

It’s important for individuals to inquire about the cost and availability of naloxone at their local pharmacies and to explore community programs that may provide naloxone at reduced or no cost. Public health initiatives are actively working to make naloxone more accessible to individuals who may need it to respond to opioid overdoses.

Importance of Carrying Narcan

Carrying Narcan (naloxone) is crucial for individuals who may be at risk of witnessing or responding to an opioid overdose. Here are key reasons why it’s important to carry Narcan:

  1. Rapid Response to Overdose:

    • Opioid overdoses can occur suddenly, and immediate intervention is critical to prevent fatal outcomes. Carrying Narcan allows for a rapid response to an overdose, potentially saving a person’s life.
  2. Time-Sensitive Reversal:

    • The effects of opioids, especially respiratory depression, can progress rapidly. Narcan acts quickly to reverse these effects and restore normal breathing. Carrying Narcan ensures that the reversal process can begin as soon as possible.
  3. Bystander Intervention:

    • Opioid overdoses often occur in the presence of friends, family, or bystanders. Carrying Narcan empowers individuals to take action and intervene in emergencies, even before professional medical help arrives.
  4. Community Safety:

    • The opioid crisis is a public health concern, and individuals using opioids, whether prescription pain medications or illicit substances, may be at risk of overdose. Carrying Narcan contributes to community safety by providing a means to respond effectively to opioid emergencies.
  5. Reducing Overdose Deaths:

    • Narcan has been instrumental in reducing opioid overdose deaths. Having Narcan readily available in communities and among individuals at risk increases the chances of a positive outcome in the event of an overdose.
  6. Easy to Use:

    • Narcan formulations, especially nasal sprays, are designed to be user-friendly. They do not require extensive medical training to administer, making it accessible for laypersons to use in emergency situations.
  7. Access to Treatment and Support:

    • Successfully reversing an overdose with Narcan provides an opportunity for the individual to access medical treatment and support for opioid use disorder. It opens a window of opportunity for engaging individuals in comprehensive care and addressing the root causes of their opioid use.
  8. Community Health Initiatives:

    • Many public health initiatives and community programs distribute Narcan as part of harm reduction efforts. Encouraging individuals to carry Narcan is a proactive approach to address the opioid crisis at a community level.

Carrying Narcan is part of a broader harm reduction strategy that aims to minimize the negative consequences of drug use.

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No, Narcan is specifically designed to reverse the effects of opioid overdose and should not be used in other situations. If you’re uncertain about the person’s condition, call emergency services for assistance.

Are there any side effects? Narcan is generally safe to use and has minimal side effects. However, it’s important to follow the instructions provided and seek medical help immediately after administering Narcan.

Narcan is primarily intended for human use. If your pet has accidentally ingested opioids, contact a veterinarian immediately for guidance.

After administering Narcan, it’s crucial to seek medical assistance promptly. Even if the person appears to be responsive, they still need professional evaluation and care.

While Narcan is primarily targeted at individuals at risk of opioid overdose, some jurisdictions allow anyone to obtain it due to its potential life-saving benefits. Check your local regulations and resources to determine eligibility.

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