You Could Save a Life if You Carry Naloxone. Here’s What You Need to Know

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said in a news conference in Atlanta, Thursday, April 5, 2018, that he wants more Americans to starts carrying Narcan, an overdose antidote, in an effort to combat the nation's opioid crisis. John Minchillo/AP Photo

Fueled by the growing national opioid crisis, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams issued a formal advisory this week urging people to consider carrying the opioid antidote naloxone.

What is Naloxone?

People in the throes of an opioid overdose often have dangerously shallow breathing or stop breathing altogether. Brain damage and death can occur within minutes.

Naloxone, also known by the name brand Narcan, temporarily reverses the effects of opioids and restores normal breathing patterns.

Naloxone is packaged as an injectable (primarily for use in hospital environments) and as a prefilled auto-injection device similar to EpiPens used to treat people with severe allergies.

Naloxone is also available as a nasal spray.

What To Know About Naloxone

Unless you’re a medical professional, it may seem intimidating to administer naloxone to someone during an opioid emergency.

But swift action with the antidote can mean the difference between life and death, so keep these things in mind.

  • Naloxone works. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “From 1996 to 2014, at least 26,500 opioid overdoses in the U.S. were reversed by laypersons using naloxone.”
  • If you’re worried you won’t know when to use naloxone in an emergency, know that administering the drug to someone who isn’t overdosing on opioids is will not cause significant harm, according to the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy.
  • 40 states and the District of Columbia have Good Samaritan or 911 drug immunity laws that protect people who intervene during a opioid overdose.
  • The National Conference of State Legislatures says the laws protect people from “arrest, charge or prosecution for certain controlled substance possession and paraphernalia offenses when a person who is either experiencing an opiate-related overdose or observing one calls 911 for assistance or seeks medical attention.”

Where to Find Free or Low-Cost Naloxone

Naloxone is a prescription drug, but it is widely available throughout the U.S. even without a prescription.

  • Learn where to find naloxone near you by typing “[your state] naloxone” into your favorite search engine.
  • Contact your insurance provider to find out whether naloxone is covered under your plan.
  • Medicaid and Medicare will pay for naloxone, but coverage varies by state.
  • Check with your local community health clinic to find out where to get naloxone in your area.
  • People with commercial insurance in Arizona, California, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio can get naloxone for free through drug manufacturer Kaleo’s pilot distribution program.
  • CVS Pharmacy dispenses naloxone without a written prescription in 46 states.
  • Prescription and nonprescription naloxone is available at Walgreens pharmacies nationwide

Once you have a supply of naloxone, make sure you learn how to administer it. Contact your local health department if you have any questions.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She enjoys telling readers about affordable ways to stay healthy, so look her up on Twitter (@lisah) if you’ve got a tip to share.