opioid epidemic

The Opioid Epidemic and Naloxone

May 24, 2018

The current opioid epidemic is one of the most serious health challenges ever faced by the United States. Today, millions of Americans are affected by opioid addiction and overdose, either suffering from substance abuse issues directly, or through their connections to family members, friends, and community members who are afflicted with opioid addiction.

One of the major recent developments in the fight against this epidemic is the growing availability of the drug known as “naloxone.” This can be used to help resuscitate someone who has is in the process of overdosing from opioids.

Let’s look at some general background on the ongoing crisis, and then see how naloxone fits into this picture.

Opioid Epidemic Statistics

Here are some recent statistics from U.S. Government Agencies and independent experts that illustrate the severity of the current epidemic:

  • Every day, roughly 125 Americans die from opioid overdose.
  • Over 42,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2016. In 2010, that figure was under 22,000.
  • 40% of those deaths resulted from opioid medications such as OxyContin and fentanyl.
  • By 12th grade, 0.4% of teens report having tried heroin, and 2.7% report having abused OxyContin.
  • The states with the highest incidence of opioid overdoses are West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky
  • In the U.S., over 60% of deaths related to drug overdose are associated with opioid use.
  • Symptoms of opioid overdose include: extremely small “pinpoint” pupils, slow or irregular breathing, blue or purple lips or fingernails, unresponsiveness to attempts to wake, and unusually slow heartbeat

What is Naloxone?

Naloxone is a drug that essentially blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, preventing drugs like heroin and oxycodone from having their usual effects. It can be administered by injecting it directly into a patient’s bloodstream, or by inhaling it using a nasal spray.

When naloxone is administered quickly enough, it is capable of reversing some of the dangerous effects associated with opioid overdose. In particular, it can be helpful in restoring the patient’s breathing to healthy ranges. As a result, it can literally save a person’s life if used correctly.

Naloxone—also commonly referred to using its brand name Narcan—is officially considered a prescription medicine in the U.S., but most states now allow customers to purchase the drug directly from a pharmacist without first obtaining a prescription from a doctor.

In order to work effectively, naloxone must be administered as quickly as possible following the onset of overdose symptoms. Thus, for years, naloxone has been in the kit of first responders, as they are likely to encounter victims of opioid overdose in the course of their duties. Unfortunately, first responders are not always able to arrive in time, leading to some deaths that could have been prevented from if the drug was administered more rapidly.

However, in early April of 2018, the U.S. Surgeon General offered an official health advisory encouraging anyone who is close to a person at risk of opioid overdose obtain access to naloxone, learn how to recognize symptoms of opioid overdose, and seek instruction on how to properly administer the drug to prevent overdose death in the case of an emergency.


If you have reason to be concerned that your teen may be at risk of overdosing on opioids, consider heeding the Surgeon General’s advisory and looking into your options for obtaining naloxone. The drug is covered by some insurance plans, so be sure to see if you can get by with only a relatively cheap co-pay. Even your insurance does not cover the drug, it is still recommended that those close to at-risk individuals obtain a dose of the drug in case of an emergency. As the Surgeon General writes at the conclusion of his official advisory: “BE PREPARED. GET NALOXONE. SAVE A LIFE.”


“Drug Overdose Death Data,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (December, 2017). Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html

“Surgeon General’s Advisory on Naloxone and Opioid Overdose,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (April 5, 2018). Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/priorities/opioid-overdose-prevention/naloxone-advisory.html

“Recognizing an Opioid Overdose,” NARCAN. (n.d.) Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.narcan.com/recognizing-opioid-overdoses

“Drug Abuse: Opioids,” National Institute on Drug Above. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

Erin Brodwin, “The US Surgeon General issued a rare advisory telling Americans to carry a lifesaving drug overdose treatment — here’s how to use it,” Business Insider. (April 5, 2018). Retrieved April 24, 2018 from http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-use-naloxone-narcan-reverse-overdose-2018-4