6 essential facts about Naloxone:

  1. Naloxone can save the life of somebody who is having an overdose. Naloxone, often known under the brand name Narcan, is a drug used to reverse opiate-related overdose. It expels opioid receptor agonists (heroin, fentanyl, Oxycontin, etc.) from the opiod receptor, thus restoring breathing and consciousness. It is extremely effective at reversing potentially fatal overdoses, and safe for non-medical bystanders to administer to overdose victims.    
  2. Naloxone distribution is the fastest and easiest way to save lives in the Opioid Epidemic. The effectiveness of community-based naloxone distribution is well-documented. [1] [2]  Other initiatives—drug-abuse prevention education, access to treatment, social supports for people in early recovery—are vitally important, and will save lives over the coming years. Naloxone in the right places will save lives by Monday.                                                                            
  3. Naloxone distribution is an astonishingly inexpensive opportunity to save lives. [3] [4]  It could cost as little as $200 to save a human life through additional naloxone distribution. To put this cost in perspective, average annual spending per capita by Medicare for end-of-life care during 2014 was $34,529.                                                                                                             
  4. Naloxone saves the most lives when is distributed directly to the current drug-using population.[5] Traditional 1st responders (EMS, fire, police) are frequently not the 1st responders to the scene of a heroin overdose. In fact, it is often other users in the room with the overdose victim who act as “1st responders” rendering life-saving aid.    
  5. Naloxone does not lead to “enabling.” For people who do not have experience with drug use, it seems intuitive that the availability of naloxone would encourage more and riskier drug use by making it seem safer (i.e. “enabling”). If you ask people who do have experience with drug use, they will tell you that the presence or absence of naloxone doesn’t change behavior. Research studies addressing this question have proven naloxone distribution doesn’t have an “enabling” effect.[6] [7] Studies claiming to show an “enabling” effect have been discredited in the research community.[8]                                                                                                                              
  6. The Government is not incented to get naloxone to the right places. Most Federal- and state-sponsored naloxone funding goes towards buying naloxone for groups that will never, or rarely, use it (law enforcement, schools, parent groups). Even though naloxone distribution through syringe exchanges saves the most lives, this approach is still too controversial to have strong and open political support. Underneath all of this is the inescapable implication that all lives are not equally valuable…and that politicians want credit for preventing teenagers from ever using drugs at all, but they do not want credit for keeping people who are currently opioid dependent alive.


[1] BMJ 2013;346:f174

[2] Addiction, 2016 May;111(5):883-91

[3] Ann Intern Med. 2013;158(1):1-9.

[4] Journal of Medical Economics Vol. 16 , Iss. 8, 2013

[5] J Addict Med 2014;8: 153–163

[6] BMC Public Health 2014 14:297

[7] Addiction, 2016 Jul;111(7):1177-87

[8] https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20180316.599095/full/