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The NIDA Blog Team

"Say What?" is a periodic series in which we define scientific terms and explain their importance.

The opioid crisis is a complicated problem that requires many solutions. Scientists and health care professionals are working toward those solutions and saving lives. One result of their work is a medication called naloxone.

What is naloxone? 

Watch the video below to find out. (The video is available in Spanish, too.)

Naloxone is designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It needs to be administered (given) right away, which is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an easy-to-use nasal spray version. Naloxone also comes in an injectable syringe, which can be used by emergency medical workers.

How does it work?

A person who overdoses on an opioid (like a prescription pain medication, heroin, or fentanyl) experiences slower breathing—or stops breathing completely. In many cases, giving the person naloxone can immediately restore normal breathing.

Who can give it?

Emergency responders, like police, doctors, and EMTs (emergency medical technicians) can administer naloxone. So can family and friends of the person who has overdosed.

Even with naloxone, however, when someone overdoses, it’s important to call emergency responders right away. Naloxone is only active in the body for 30 to 90 minutes, and its effects can wear off, causing the user to stop breathing again. Sometimes a second dose is needed, especially with really deadly opioids like fentanyl.

Naloxone can be a life-saver, but it isn’t used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), which can include opioid addiction. So, after being revived by naloxone, it’s important for a person with OUD to find substance use treatment. Visit this page to get more information or to find treatment near you.

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.


how does the naloxone work immediately,

Good question! Naloxone is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids. It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications. Find out more here:

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