More and more people are dying from the likes of heroin, fentanyl and prescription pain medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone. These opioids are drugs derived from the opium poppy plant or are made in the lab. Used to treat pain, cough and diarrhea these opioids can also be addictive and even deadly. Since the turn of the century, the number of opioid overdose deaths has escalated more than 400% with tens of thousands of lives now being lost every year. But many deaths can be prevented with a life-saving treatment: naloxone. When given right away, naloxone can work in minutes to reverse an overdose. Naloxone is safe, has few side effects, and some forms can be administered by friends and family.
When is naloxone used?
- You can save a life. First, recognize signs of overdose:
- Limp body
- Clammy face
- Blue fingernails of lips
- Vomiting or gurgling sounds
- Inability to speak or be awakened
- Slow breathing
- Slow heartbeat
If you see these symptoms, call 911 immediately and consider the use of naloxone if available.
How is naloxone given?
Home preparations include a nasal spray given to someone while they lie on their back or a device that automatically injects medicine into the thigh. Sometimes more than one dose is needed. The person’s breathing also needs to be monitored. If the person stops breathing consider rescue breaths and CPR if you are trained to do so until first responders arrive.
How does naloxone work?
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it blocks opioid receptors from being activated. It is so strongly attracted to the receptors that it knocks other opioids off. When opioids are sitting on their receptors, they change the activity of the cell. Opioid receptors are found on nerve cells all around the body:
In the brain, opioids produce feelings of comfort and sleepiness.
In the brainstem, opioids relax breathing and reduce cough.
In the spinal cord and peripheral nerves, opioids slow down pain signals.
In the gastrointestinal tract, opioids are constipating.
These opioids actions can be helpful. The body actually produces its own opioids called “endorphins,” which help calm the body in times of stress. Endorphins help produce the “runner’s high” that helps marathon runners get through grueling races. But opioids drugs, like prescription pain medications or heroin, have much stronger opioid effects and they are more dangerous. Over time, frequent opioid use makes the body dependent on drugs. When the opioids are taken away, the body reacts with withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, racing heart, soaking sweats, vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors. For many, the symptoms feel unbearable. With continued use, opioid receptors also become less responsive and the body develops a tolerance to the drugs. More drugs are then needed to produce the same effects which make overdose more likely. Overdose is dangerous especially for its effect in the brainstem, relaxing breathing. Breathing can be relaxed so much that is stops… leading to death.
Naloxone knocks opioids off their receptors all around the body. In the brainstem, naloxone can restore the drive to breathe and save a life. But even if naloxone is successful, opioids are still floating around, so expert medical care should be sought immediately as naloxone works for 30-90 minutes before the opioids return to their receptors. Naloxone may promote withdrawal because it knocks opioids off their receptors very quickly. But otherwise, naloxone is safe and unlikely to produce side effects.
Naloxone saving lives
From 1996 to 2014, at least 26,500 opioid overdoses in the United States were reversed by laypersons using naloxone. While naloxone is a potentially life-saving treatment, more needs to be done after an overdose has occurred. Individuals who have become addicted to opioids need to seek medical detox and therapeutic rehabilitation.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance addiction and would like to explore treatment options, feel free to give us a call at (800) 851-3291. Florida Center for Recovery (FCR) offers addiction treatment with specialized therapies for individuals 18 and older through private inpatient rehab services. Established in 2002, FCR is a medical detox and rehabilitation facility providing comprehensive therapeutic programs to treat addiction and its underlying related mental health conditions. Our addiction treatment programs offer variable lengths of stay, which allows each client to anchor recovery behaviors needed for lasting change.
For more information about our rehab programs, you may also visit our online booklet Florida-Center-for-Recovery-Booklet for a better insight into our diverse comprehensive therapies.
Florida Center for Recovery
Helping Individuals Struggling with Substance Addiction Recover Since 2002.