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The NIDA Blog Team

Too much of anything can be dangerous—even something that was designed to help people.

Prescription opioids—pain medication like oxycodone and morphine—can be really helpful when they’re taken as prescribed by a doctor. But what about when someone takes too much of an opioid and overdoses?

The result can be deadly. In large doses, prescription opioids can slow or stop a person’s breathing, which can kill them. An overdose of heroin, an illegal type of opioid, works in much the same way, and can be just as lethal.

Reversing an overdose

If you like TV medical dramas, you’ve probably watched an emergency-room scene where a single injection saves someone’s life. This can really happen for someone who has overdosed on opioids if they get treatment in time, and it’s all thanks to brain science and medication research.

The most effective approach has been the medication naloxone, which can rapidly restore a person’s normal breathing rate. Naloxone is available in an injectable syringe (including one that automatically injects) and now as a nasal spray as well.

Naloxone works because it’s an “opioid antagonist,” which means it attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain, then reverses and blocks the effects of opioids, stopping an overdose in its tracks (hopefully).

Call 911, save a life

What does an overdose look like?

Opioid overdoses are life-threatening. Learn to recognize the signs, and don’t be afraid to call 911 if someone you know is showing these signs of a possible overdose:

  • Their face is extremely pale and/or feels clammy to the touch
  • Their body goes limp
  • Their fingernails or lips have a purple or blue color
  • They start vomiting or making gurgling noises
  • They cannot be awakened or are unable to speak
  • Their breathing or heartbeat slows or stops

Naloxone is widely used by emergency responders, such as police and doctors. So if someone is overdosing, it’s really important to get them help as soon as possible. It could save their life. In many states, “Good Samaritan laws” protect people who call 911 to get help for a friend who has overdosed.

Naloxone at home

If you have a family member who needs to take opioid pain relievers for an extended amount of time, or who is using opioids illegally, your family might want to have this medicine on hand in case of an emergency. In some states, pharmacies have made arrangements to dispense naloxone without a prescription from a personal doctor. Families can ask their pharmacist about it. See NIDA’s naloxone page for more information.

There are no guarantees naloxone will be close by when someone needs it. But it’s already saving many lives, and for that we can all be grateful.

If opioids are misused, they can take control of your brain. Learn why here.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Dr. Kim Janda's heroin and fentanyl overdose prevention vaxes will also reverse an overdose and prevent one in the first for those that get the vaccines. Please fund the human trials now. These vaccines will start saving lives the day human trials start.
From reading this article I have learned about overdosing on opioids and how naloxone can save so body from overdosing. If somebody is overdosing they will have a clammy face, blue fingernails and toenails, a slow heartbeat, and they will be unconscious and most likely vomiting. Naxolone one can stop the drug from going through the opioid receptors in the brain. People can ask their pharmacists for naxolone just Incase a family member a has an overdose.
I think the naloxone is really helpful to people who are overdosing on opioid drugs.
I think i can save people from overdosing
Would you get arrested if you were doing the drug too and called the police to help a friend that’s overdosing? I thought the article had good information and told people a lot about drug and I didn’t know that a narcan can wake someone up that has overdosed.

We can’t be sure about whether or not you would be arrested, but you should never hesitate to call the police (or 911) for help any time you think someone is overdosing. It’s always better to play it safe!

Vienna. Where a single injection can save somebody's life. I think it was interesting because if you are so close to dying , then if u get an injection it can save you life jus by some medications. It's worth it.
Why would doctors prescribe such a big amount of pain relievers for a patient if the patient Is not going to need the prescription forever therefore the patient would become addicted to the drug and that addiction will evolve to a much worse group of drugs which would ruin the patients life?
Naloxone is very helpful. I believe that many more people should have access to this opioid antagonist. Although, doctors should do more to prevent overdoses from prescription drugs.
I’m glad that we found ways to help people with overdoses. It’s horrible that people have these problems, but we should be thankful for all the help from 911 we can get.
I think it's interesting how Naloxone can restore their breathing rate and stop an overdose

We agree!

I think that is is amazing that Naloxone can revive someone that has overdoesed on opioids and save a life.
I don’t know I feel about naloxone being readily available by prescription. Sure, it is very important in the case of a drug overdose, but is it possible that knowing it is easily acquired may make the risks of using opioids seem less severe to a potential drug user?

Great question! This is a common misconception about naloxone. The reality is that just because an opioid user knows naloxone is available, it doesn’t mean he/she will misuse opioids more, or think the risks are less severe.

It's good to know what can help someone if they overdose. it's also very helpful knowing the symptoms of someone that overdosed. Naloxone seems like a very helpful and useful drug.
Naloxone is a life saver. It a reassuring to know that in a time where heroin and opioid abuse are rampant there is a life saver like this available
Naloxone is a life saving drug but the underlying problem is still there and now with less fear of an overdose more people take the risks as well as the over prescribing of opioids in the first place
This could be very useful and save many lives which would be great considering the fact that there are lots of overdoses these days, and there is now a remedy to prevent that and save lives.
Nalaxone is a very helpful medicine that can save people's lives. This medicine is injected into someone's bloodstream if they overdose on a opioid such as heroin.
It’s amazing how far modern medicine has come. Not only can we give people medicine to ease pain, we can save their life if they misuse this medicine. Naloxone should be widely available for people to use in case of an emergency.
I think that Naloxone can be very helpful and should be made available without a prescription in all states considering that it can save people’s lives in the case of an overdose
The fact that one injection of Naloxone can save someone from an overdose is incredible. It’s very fascinating that Naloxone can restore someone’s breathing rate and bring them back down to stop an overdose-related death. However, this should not be used as a single alternative that can be used irresponsibly, allowing someone to use opioids at their discretion and have Naloxone on standby so the process can repeat again and again.
I like the idea of having a medication that can save someone from an overdose. It is cool that we have technology that can reverse an oveedose, but I talso think that you should only be given one naloxone because the same person could keep overdoseing and know that they will be saved if it is given to them.
I think it is really great that Naloxone is saving peoples lives. Maybe if people see that not everyone gets a second chance and they did, that they won’t ever overdose or do drugs like that again. The good thing about Naloxone is that it can be taken many different ways and can save tons and tons of lives. I don’t think people should just overdose freely since that think this drug will save them every time, but it is a great thing to have drugs like Naloxone to save people Incase of a possible overdose.
This article is filled with lots of helpfuk information on this topic. All of the items in this reading help me learn more about this topic and teach me things that I wouldn't know without it.
Naloxone is clearly an extremely helpful medication for those who are facing an overdose. Whether someone is taking prescription Opioids or heroin, overdose is possible. This can lead to death, but it is possible for Naloxone to help prevent this by making breathing easier. If one of my friends/family were in the situation, I know that I would want someone to give them this injection ( or the new nasal spray). In the future, if i ever find someone showing signs of an overdose, I would make sure to call 911 immediatly in order to possibly save their life, and I hope someone else would do the same.
It's really neat to see such a lifesaver in today's day and age. It's really good that Naloxone can restore ones breathing rate. It almost seems impossible, straight out of a fictional movie. I'm really impressed by Naloxone and what it offers.
When people overdose on opioids people use naloxone. Naloxone is a medication used by many emergency reponsonders. Naloxone helps people who overdose to return somewhat back to normal
I think it's very helpful to have a treatment can reverse an overdose quickly, but I don't think it should be given out without a prescription if it's not an emergency.
Naxolone is a great way to save lives and it should be used for over doses but most importantly over doses should be prevented and drug use as well to prevent deaths
I think articles like this are important because some people don’t automatically call the cops when they see someone overdosing. This article tells you why you should calls the cops because you might actually saves someone’s life.
Naloxone is a very important for emergency responders to have on them. Without naloxone the death rates for overdoses involving heroin would be much higher. Thanks to naloxone more people get a second chance at life.
I think that this new research and medicine, called Naloxone, is a great advancement in saving the casualties from opioid overdoses. It should be something that can be purchased anywhere because it is proven to save lives.
If nalaxone is so cheap and works so effectively, why isn’t it commonly stocked in many place so such as another life-saving product like EpiPens?

While naloxone is very effective, many people have reported that it’s more expensive than the average person can afford. People in the federal government are working hard to try make this life-saving drug more affordable for people to keep at home or even in their car to help others in need.

I think it is good that there is something that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It will save a lot of lives and should be available to anyone who asks.

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