What is naloxone?

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 3-26-11

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 3-26-11. http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/3320

Question of the Week: What is naloxone?

A Drug Profile for Naloxone HCl from the Arizona Department of Health Services describes the drug as a

“narcotic (opioid) agonist” marketed under the name Narcan. Its adult dosages come in IV, intra-nasal, and continuous IV infusion forms. As an antidote to opioid overdose, Naloxone “Reverses respiratory depression secondary to narcotics.”

According to a Drexel University Law Review article,

“The drug “blocks the effects of opiates by binding to three types of opioid receptors in the central nervous system. It is standard practice for first responders to inject naloxone when summoned to the scene of drug overdose”

A study in the Canadian Journal for Emergency Medicine, stated,

“Respiratory depression, the primary cause of death in opioid overdose, is due to direct inhibition of the brainstem respiratory centre and decreased responsiveness to carbon dioxide.”

“Heroin [an opioid] is particularly toxic because of high lipid solubility, which allows it to cross the blood–brain barrier within seconds and achieve high brain levels.

“Naloxone is also lipid soluble and enters the brain rapidly. Reversal of respiratory depression is evident 3–4 minutes after IV and 5–6 minutes after subcutaneous administration.”

According to a 2005 article in the Journal of Urban Health,

“Naloxone precipitates acute withdrawal symptoms in opiate-dependent persons, but has no effect on nonopiate users; serious adverse effects are rare and naloxone has no abuse potential.”

The report goes on to say,

“Fatal heroin overdose has become a leading cause of death among injection drug users. Several recent feasibility studies have concluded that naloxone distribution programs for heroin injectors should be implemented to decrease heroin overdose deaths.”

These facts and others like them can be found in the Naloxone section of the Methadone Maintenance & Buprenorphine Chapters of Drug War Facts at http://www.drugwarfacts.org.