Publication date: Jan 14, 2020
If you’ve been affected by the opioid crisis, you have probably heard of an anti-overdose drug called naloxone.
To understand how naloxone works in the body, it’s important to understand how opioids work.
Naloxone binds to some of the very same opioid receptors.
Essentially, if opioid receptors are locks, then naloxone is like putty that fills those locks and prevents them from being used – thereby preventing the opioids from having an effect and actually reversing ongoing effects by, for instance, instructing cells to dilate pupils and free up airways.
Some opioid pills now come combined with naloxone powder, so that the naloxone can help prevent dependency from that same opioid.
Nine states – Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington – now mandate co-prescribing naloxone with some or all opioid prescriptions.
Still, actual distribution lags behind: of the 13. 5 million Americans prescribed large daily doses of opioids in 2018, less than 1% received naloxone, according to the CDC.
One of the reasons naloxone’s proponents are so enthusiastic is that it has little effect unless opioids are already present in the body.
This allows naloxone to be safely used -not only in emergency treatment of known opioid overdose cases, but also in suspected opioid overdose,” explains Wasantha Jayawardene, a public health researcher at the University of Indiana.
Another concern: naloxone is only effective for 30-45 minutes, shorter than the time of action of most opioids – and multiple doses are often needed.
It’s even possible that administering naloxone to an opioid-dependent person and rapidly reversing the opioids’ effects could trigger a severe, potentially life-threatening withdrawal.
The CDC found that, in the U. S., pharmacies in urban areas were far more likely to have naloxone than pharmacies in rural areas that often are badly affected by the opioid crisis.
So is naloxone really a permanent solution to opioid addiction?
- Agreement lets more companies make antidotes for opioid overdoses
- Association between opioid analgesic therapy and initiation of buprenorphine management: An analysis of prescription drug monitoring program data.