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How Long Does Naloxone Block

by Annabel Caldwell
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How Long Does Naloxone Block

How Long Does Naloxone Block

Naloxone blocks opioid receptors from 30 to 120 minutes, but this can be variable and depends upon the dose and how it is given.

Opioid overdose deaths have risen dramatically in recent years with over 70 percent of all drug-related deaths occurring due to opioids like heroin or fentanyl. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on June 27, 2017, there were more than 47,000 deaths that involved an opioid in 2015 — up from 28,497 deaths involving an opioid in 2014. And while these numbers are alarming, they’re just part of the story. The CDC also found that nearly half of people who died from an opioid overdose had not previously used any prescription painkillers.
In other words, many people are getting hooked on drugs without ever having tried them before, which is why so many families are left behind after someone dies unexpectedly of an opioid overdose. This has become such a problem that some states including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Vermont and Washington D.C., have passed laws allowing health care professionals to prescribe naloxone, often referred to as Narcan, without a patient’s approval. Naloxone is a medication that acts as an antagonist at opioid receptors in your brain, meaning that when you take naloxone, it will block those same receptors from working. If you’ve taken enough of an opioid, taking naloxone should reverse your symptoms within about five minutes.
Because of its short duration, naloxone was originally developed to treat patients suffering from acute alcohol intoxication, but since then it’s been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help reverse overdoses caused by opioids. In fact, according to Dr. Peter Burch, director of Yale University’s addiction medicine program, “nearly every state” now allows doctors to prescribe naloxone to anyone who might be experiencing signs or symptoms of an opioid overdose.
The only question remaining is whether or not it would be useful for someone who isn’t trying to harm themselves, but rather someone else. To find out, we spoke with Dr. Christopher Jarvis, professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, who specializes in critical care and trauma. We asked him what naloxone does, and if there are any side effects associated with using it. Here’s what he told us.
What exactly is naloxone? How does it work?
It’s a small molecule that fits into the binding pocket of opioid receptors, which means that it blocks the normal function of opioids in your body. Opioids act on opioid receptors in your brain and spinal cord, and when you take opioids, you’ll feel really good because your brain is telling your body that everything is OK. When the opioid wears off, your brain realizes something is wrong and sends signals back down to your body to tell it to stop doing what it’s doing. But with naloxone, when you take it, it binds to the opioid receptor instead of the person actually taking the opioid. It prevents the opioid from being able to get inside and interact with the receptor, so the signal doesn’t go through.
Is it safe? What happens if I accidentally take too much?
One of the things that makes naloxone different from other medications is that it’s very short acting — it typically takes two to three minutes for it to start working. So even though it may seem scary at first, once you know what it does, you won’t want to mess around with it. You wouldn’t need to worry about overdosing on naloxone itself; you’d only need to worry about overdosing on an actual opioid. For example, if somebody is intoxicated and you give them naloxone, it could cause respiratory depression. If somebody is abusing opioids, they may have gotten their hands on a very high dosage of opioids. They probably would have injected it intravenously, which is where the danger lies. With naloxone, if you were to take it orally, you would never experience any of the serious complications that come along with IV administration.
What are some of the side effects?
If you take naloxone, it shouldn’t do anything harmful to your system. There aren’t any known side effects of naloxone use. It’s important to note that if you choose to be tested for allergies prior to getting naloxone, it may show up positive. However, most patients don’t test for allergies, so this shouldn’t deter you from getting treatment.
Has anyone experienced any long term problems after being treated with naloxone?
There haven’t been any reports of long term issues from people who have received naloxone. One thing worth noting is that if you’re going to try to discontinue opiates cold turkey — say, after you’ve stopped using — you should start off slowly. If you were taking 100 milligrams of oxycodone per day, you should cut down gradually to maybe 50 milligrams per day. That way, you won’t be overwhelmed right away and you can still manage withdrawal symptoms.
So basically, it helps victims of opioid overdose until medical personnel arrive. Is that it?
That’s pretty much it. Because it’s so short acting, it’s not supposed to be helpful for people who are actively engaged in trying to abuse opioids. It’s mainly intended to save lives.
What happens after someone gets revived with naloxone? Do they continue to receive treatment?
Naloxone is primarily used as a rescue medication, so it’s meant to be used as needed. Once somebody has been revived with naloxone, they usually stay under the supervision of medical staff until the end of the hospital visit. Afterward, they may be discharged and monitored for several weeks.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately one in four individuals who die from unintentional poisoning die from an opioid overdose.

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