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What is Narcan?

NARCANBy now we’ve all heard about naloxone, or Narcan as its commonly called in the news, but what is it really? And should you have some on hand if you or a loved one is suffering with opioid addiction? Narcan is a very effective medication used to reverse the effects of a potentially fatal opioid overdose. Historically Narcan was most often administered intravenously or subcutaneously, but as its popularity has grown amongst first responders and other emergency medical personnel, it is now found in auto-injectors (like an epi-pen for allergic reactions) and nasal applicators. The advent of nasal Narcan in particular, allows lay people to use it, making it an invaluable tool for those of us who have loved ones struggling with opioid addiction or are struggling with the disease ourselves.


Narcan is a drug and therefore it’s regulated by the FDA in the United States. While it is not a controlled substance, it is a prescription medication which a doctor can prescribe for you (like that epi-pen we mentioned earlier). But many states have responded to the nations growing opioid crisis by issuing what is in essence a standing prescription for the drug, so anyone can go into a pharmacy and purchase it directly from the pharmacist without a prescription written in your name. Laws differ from state to state and are changing quickly, but the LawAtlas keeps a very good collection of current laws where you can check the status of laws in your state.


Again, using the epi-pen analogy, Narcan in either its auto-injector or nasal applicator forms is relatively easy to use, but like any medical emergency, the circumstances which necessitate its administration can be very stressful. Because of that, training on Narcan’s proper use is definitely recommended and in some cases mandatory. Training can be provided by your primary care physician but that isn’t always practical. There are many groups across the nations that provide training on Narcan’s use for you or a loved one. For example, in Worcester, MA, groups like Learn to Cope and AIDS Project Worcester often facilitate trainings. If you feel you’re in need of training on the proper use of Narcan or maybe a refresher is in order, look for area support groups or contact your state Department of Health for more information.


Like any drug that sees a sudden spike in demand, the cost of Narcan has risen sharply over the last few years. In Massachusetts, the price of a single dose has risen from around $20 to well over $40 in the last decade alone. Thankfully many leaders have taken note and are attempting to bring the cost down by ensuring stockpiles of the drug remain high. When you figure that a single dose of Narcan could be the difference between life and death, the price, even at its current level is invaluable. Further, there are many grants at the state and federal level designed to allow for bulk purchases and distribution. Check with your state Department of Health to see if such a grant has impacted your area and you may be able to secure a kit at a discount.

In the end, Narcan is just one tool in helping you prepare for the potential of an overdose. But the underlying issue remains the opiate addiction itself. While we’d certainly recommend training in using a Narcan delivery device, it remains only one part of protecting yourself or a loved one. A formal, evidence-based recovery program remains the very best option for those seeking long-term recovery from the disease of addiction. Please contact Spectrum Health Systems at (800) 366-7732 for more information on how we can help.

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