How can I get medication to reverse an opioid overdose’s effects? Many people, both drug users and non-users, are wondering this same thing. Naloxone, the active ingredient in the brand name Narcan, is used every day by medical professionals and law enforcement to reverse life-threatening opioid overdoses across the country. It’s saved countless lives from an otherwise sure death.
Symptoms of Opioid Overdose
You should be familiar with the following classic signs of opioid overdose:
- Blue skin around the lips and nails
- Very slow, irregular breathing
- Syringe’s needle still in a vein
- Pinpoint pupils
- Not able to rouse the person
- Cold, clammy skin
This occurs when a person has taken more of an opioid that their system can handle. This dose will not be the same for everyone. Regular use of an opioid will cause a person to build up a tolerance. This tolerance means that the user can take more, often much, much more, than someone who doesn’t use opioids on a regular basis. Tolerance to opioids builds quickly, even in new users. Repeated exposure causes the liver to make enzymes that break the opioid down faster, reducing how much of the drug reaches the brain. The brain itself will grow more opioid receptors and make other changes to accommodate the constant presence of opioid molecules. This tolerance can provide significant protection against overdose, but no one is immune to death by opioid overdose, no matter what their tolerance level is. Everyone has a potentially fatal dose.
The Brain Stem
Opioids kill by suppressing the breathing center in the brain’s stem area. A protein called beta-arrestin is involved in this process. This may be why kratom, although it clearly binds to opioid brain receptors, isn’t associated with respiratory depression. Current research and information indicates that kratom doesn’t recruit beta-arrestin. Although opioid overdose can be fatal, opioids themselves aren’t toxic in the same way as other poisons are. Opioids don’t kill by causing damage to cells and organs. They kill by suppressing breathing. They do this by activating certain receptor sites in the brain called opioid receptors. There are three main ones. These are mu, delta and kappa. It’s the mu receptor most associated with suppression of the breathing reflex. It’s also primarily responsible for other desirable opioid effects like analgesia and sedation. Opioids are very much a double-edged sword. The same opioid that can relieve great pain can also kill. It’s all dose-dependent.
How Naloxone Works
Naloxone can reverse a dangerous opioid overdose in minutes or even seconds. Once administered by injection or through the nose, naloxone goes to the brain. Once there, it removes the opioid molecules from the receptor sites and then occupies those same sites itself. It does this because it has a higher preference for the receptors than the opioid does. Since only one molecule can occupy the receptor at a time, the opioid just circulates harmlessly around until the body breaks it down and gets rid of it naturally. Naloxone typically must be administered more than once because it’s shorter acting than most opioids are. If the naloxone wears off and releases from the receptors while dangerous levels of opioids are still present, the opioid molecules will reattach to the receptors and can still cause death.
Not everyone with an opioid overdose will require naloxone. It should only be administered when the person is in a serious overdose situation. However, this is not a determination for the average person to make. If you believe a person has overdosed on opioids, give the rescue medication and call for help. The only real side effect from it is that a person addicted to opioids will go into severe withdrawal. This is painful but generally not life-threatening. If you ever have to make a choice, give the naloxone, and give it quick. A life may depend on it.
How to Get Naloxone
Naloxone for overdose rescue use is legal in all 50 states. You don’t need a prescription. Just go to the pharmacy and ask for it. Most major pharmacies should already have it in stock. Smaller ones may need to order it. It’s not free, but there are online resources where you can get information about getting the medication at low cost or no cost. Don’t let anyone at the pharmacy judge you. It’s your right to buy it. Their opinion doesn’t matter.
Help is Available
If you’re reading this, you may be concerned about someone with an opioid problem. We can help. Just call us at 833-610-1174 anytime. We’re here to help you help someone you care about to get the help they need.