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Naloxone prescription can save lives, reversing opioid overdoses

Narcan Naloxone Two Pack
Keeping 2 naloxone nasal sprays with you at all times can help save lives.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that more than 1 in 10 Veterans who seek care at VA meet the criteria to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder.

This is higher than the rate of the general population, which saw drug overdose deaths involving prescription opioids rise from 14,139 in 2019 to 16,416 in 2020. As the fight against opioid abuse continues, there are ways we all can help through education on opioid safety.

What are opioids?

Opioids are drugs used to treat pain, cough, and addiction. Some examples of common opioids include fentanyl, hydrocodone with acetaminophen, hydromorphone, methadone, oxycodone, and morphine. While prescription opioids can be useful, opioid overdose can happen when a person takes more opioids than the body can handle, which can cause a person to stop breathing and die.

Any person taking an opioid has a risk of opioid overdose. Prior overdose or substance use disorder, use with alcohol or benzodiazepines, like alprazolam, lorazepam, diazepam, clonazepam, or drugs that make you sleepy, can all be attributed to higher risk of overdose. Even resuming opioids after not taking them for a while can be a risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of overdose?

  • Heavy nodding, deep sleep
  • Snoring, gurgling, or choking sounds
  • No response to shaking or shouting
  • No or slow breathing (less than 1 breath every 5 seconds)
  • Bluish-gray lips and fingernails
  • Cold, clammy skin

If a person has any of the signs listed above, check for a response. If there is no response, shout for help, call 911, and give naloxone.

How do I avoid an opioid overdose?

  • Take opioids only if prescribed to you and as directed by your doctor
  • Tell your doctors about all medications you are taking, including non-VA opioids
  • Never mix opioids with alcohol, sleeping pills, or illegal drugs
  • Tell your family and friends that you are using opioids and inform them how to respond to an overdose
  • Do not stop taking opioids on your own; your doctor can help safely stop and avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Do not share, give, or sell opioids
  • Store opioids properly away from other household members

What is naloxone and its role in opioid overdose?

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is an easy-to-carry medication that reverses the effects of opioids. This medication can be administered by anyone witnessing an opioid overdose. In fact, a study found 1 in 3 overdoses involved a bystander who could have intervened. Giving naloxone to someone who is experiencing an opioid overdose can prevent brain damage or even death. However, it is important to know that naloxone will not reverse the effects of alcohol or benzodiazepines that could also cause sleepiness and trouble breathing.

Learning the signs of overdose and how to use naloxone can help save lives. If you or someone in your household are taking prescription opioids, talk to a provider about obtaining a prescription for naloxone.

Learn more about how to use and store Naloxone