How Narcan Works

Opioid overdoses can be deadly, and administering Narcan at the first signs of drug overdose can save a life.

But how does Narcan work, and what makes it such a powerful tool against overdose deaths? We’re exploring the science of overdoses and Narcan’s effectiveness in fighting overdose.

Understanding the Science of Overdose 

When a person is overdosing on opioids, there are several systems within the body that are affected. First, breathing is slowed, and this slowing of breathing damages organs throughout the body as a person’s oxygen supply diminishes. The slowed breathing is caused by overflowing of opioid receptors in the medulla and the pons, both areas are responsible for breathing among many other vital functions. As opioid receptors throughout the body are flooded with opioids, organs such as the heart can also be harmed.1

How Narcan Works Against Overdoses

  So, how does Narcan work? Narcan is most commonly given as a nasal spray, and once the spray enters the user’s nostrils, it is absorbed and works as an opioid antagonist in the brain. It blocks opioid receptors from absorbing more opioids, which helps to reduce the negative effects of overdoses. Naloxone also knocks opioids out of receptors, helping to undo the damage of overdose.2

Opioid receptors are located in nerves and organs throughout the body. In the brain, opioids can produce feelings of sleepiness. In regions of the brain stem, opioids relax breathing while they reduce sensations of pain in the spinal cord and throughout the body. 2

Combined flooding of opioid receptors throughout these areas of the body can be counteracted with Narcan, which blocks the absorption of opioids by the receptors and can revive a person from deadly overdose symptoms. It is important to understand how to administer Narcan properly, which is typically done through a nasal spray application.

Narcan Side Effects

While Narcan is lifesaving in its treatment of overdoses, it can have side effects like many other medications on the market. Side effects of Narcan can include nasal dryness, stuffy nose, swelling, headache, or muscle/joint pain.3

Treating Opioid Addiction After Overdose Treatment

While Narcan can counteract the effects of an overdose, it’s only effective for immediate resuscitation of a patient. It can’t treat the underlying problem of opioid addiction. At Banyan Treatment Centers, we offer opiate detox in Stuart to help patients get and stay sober. Don’t risk an overdose, get sober today with help from our team at Banyan Detox Stuart. Call 888-280-4763 to learn more about our programs and resources for recovery.


  1. Science News - Opioids Kill
  2. MedlinePlus - How Naloxone Saves Lives in Opioid Overdose
  3. WebMD - Narcan Spray, Non-Aerosol

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Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.