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How to respond to an opioid overdose?

The most effective treatment for an opioid overdose is to administer a medication called Narcan (naloxone). This medication can be administered in several ways, but intranasally or through the nose is the easiest way for the average person to do it.

Where to get Narcan?

Narcan can be prescribed by a doctor to any patient on opioids to keep around the house in case of emergency. In some states, but not all, Suboxone can be purchased over the counter without a prescription at a pharmacy.

It is recommended that all patients that use narcotics, either legally or illegally, have Narcan available in their home and carry it with them in case of emergency. If you or a loved one uses an opioid, ask your doctor about getting Narcan to have in case of emergency. You can also inquire as to whether your state permits over-the-counter Narcan to be purchased or whether a prescription is necessary.

Other ways to prevent an overdose

There are few other interventions that have been proven to help prevent overdoses. Attempting to stimulate the person by talking to them or shaking them gently can be helpful. It can also potentially be helpful to move the patient so that they are lying on their side and not on their back to help prevent them from inhaling their own saliva or vomitus.

Remember that you can never “get in trouble” for helping someone during an overdose, even if you were also using substances. Do not let this be a barrier to helping someone in need. Law enforcement and health care professionals will be glad that you helped prevent someone from overdosing, no matter what.

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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