Type to search

Mitigating Overdoses: Narcan Comes to SU

Features News

Mitigating Overdoses: Narcan Comes to SU


In the past year, you may have received a few Southwestern branded emails heralding the arrival of Narcan to the campus’s AEDs. This drug can reverse opioid overdoses, and its presence in Southwestern is representative of its prominent role in opioid harm reduction across the United States. Lives previously understood to be lost may now be protested by informed bystander intervention. To ensure that you are an informed potential bystander, this article covers the facts of Narcan and its position in the harm reduction movement.

What is Narcan?

Narcan is the brand name for a nasal spray form of the medication Naloxone. Essentially, Naloxone prevents an opioid overdose from taking effect. It does this by binding to opioid receptors, reversing the effects of opioids, and halting the overdose. Naloxone has no adverse effects if administered in the absence of an opioid overdose, so can be administered without risk of adverse side effects. Naloxone can be administered through intranasal spray or intramuscular, subcutaneous, or intravenous injection.

Why Narcan?

Narcan is the first form of naloxone available over the counter (OTC). The first patent for Naloxone was applied for in 1961 and then approved by the FDA for use in 1971. 

Naloxone has been administered by medical personnel for many years but was not publicly available. Narcan was approved as a prescription drug in 2015, and then as an OTC product in March 2023. This means that the drug became accessible to the public and thus the majority of opioid users not receiving medical treatment. Since this initial approval, the FDA has approved RiVive, another OTC Naloxone nasal spray. Now, Narcan is publicly available in drug stores, grocery stores, and other easily accessible places of commerce. RiVive has just begun to be distributed, primarily to harm reduction organizations and state governments.

Why does this matter?

The wider distribution and accessibility of Narcan and other Naloxone drugs supports the harm reduction movement combatting the ongoing overdose crisis in the US. These overdoses are overwhelmingly attributed to opioids, specifically synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. In 2021, of the over 106,000 reported deaths due to overdose, 70,601 involved synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl). In 2022, CDC data collected from 30 jurisdictions (states) found that 42.6% of 51,435 overdose deaths (81.8% of which involved opioids) had bystanders. The widespread availability of Narcan and other Naloxone products enables these bystanders to intervene in Opioid overdoses where they could not before.

Accessible Naloxone products are a tremendous tool in Harm Reduction. This movement focuses on the reducing adverse effects of drug use (health, employment, etc.) rather than focusing on preventing use. Harm reduction organizations engage with people on a community basis, providing resources such as food, shelter, or clean needles, as well as connecting users with counseling or rehabilitation services. Instead of utilizing the carceral approach, Harm Reduction stems from a place of compassion, recognizing addicts’ humanity and seeking to care for, rather than criminalize them. In this spirit, those who administer Narcan or Naloxone are protected under the Good Samaritan Law, allowing people to prevent overdoses with no fear of legal repercussions.

Southwestern’s Role

Southwestern has joined this mission and distributed Narcan across campus in all AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators), as well as to SUPD and the Health Center. According to an email from Dr. Brit Katz sent on April 5, 2023, this process was a collaboration between the SU Health Center and the Williamson County Cities Health District EMS Team. Narcan is accessible in all AED boxes.

Instructions for how to use Narcan are provided on the Health Center website and pasted here.

The distribution of Narcan across campus is an unquestionably positive step in ensuring the safety of students and other Southwestern inhabitants. To ensure your and others’ safety, it is wise to have a general understanding of where these supplies are and how to use them. When the right resources are available, we are all able to help one another a bit more.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *