Narcan® is the brand name for naloxone, a medication that can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid. Opioids include pain medications — such as Vicodin®, OxyContin®, Percocet®, Opana®, morphine, methadone, fentanyl — and heroin.
When given to a person during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and the respiratory system to prevent death.
Naloxone comes in several delivery methods, but the most common is given intranasally (into the nostrils) as a spray. Narcan® is the brand name for the intranasal delivery method and is the product that lay people can obtain. A Narcan prescription comes with two doses of the medication that can be given back to back in case the first dose is not enough to reverse the overdose.
Naloxone is effective only for opioid overdoses — it cannot reverse overdoses from alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, or other drugs if opioids are not present. But, because most overdose deaths involve opioids, it is an important rescue medication.
Naloxone is very safe and, because giving naloxone to someone who has not taken opioids will not harm them, it is normally used to treat any suspected overdose.
Anyone can obtain Narcan from Pennsylvania pharmacies without a prescription.
In 2014, the Pennsylvania senate signed into law Act 139, which authorizes law enforcement officers and other emergency responders to carry and administer naloxone to people who are having an overdose.
The law also enables family members, friends and others to help people at risk of overdose by allowing them to get a prescription for naloxone from their pharmacy to have on hand in case of an emergency. Act 139 also provides immunity from prosecution for those responding to and reporting an overdose.
Although family members of people who are taking prescription pain medications can get a prescription for Narcan from their family doctor, anyone can access Narcan by using the standing order on file at most pharmacies.
The standing order, issued by Rachel Levine, MD, Pennsylvania secretary of health, is a prescription written for the general public rather than specifically for one individual.
It allows anyone to fill a prescription for Narcan at any pharmacy in Pennsylvania. If your pharmacy does not have the standing order on file, you can download it here and print it out for the pharmacist.
Many medical insurances will cover the cost of Narcan at no cost or at the same copay you pay for other medications; however, some may not.
Because the cost may differ among different pharmacies, you might want to call around to several pharmacies on your insurance plan to ask them:
Most pharmacies will flag Narcan as a medication that requires a consultation with the pharmacist. If you order Narcan and the pharmacist offers a consultation, accept it.
You can ask the pharmacist any questions you have about when and how to give Narcan so that you can be more confident in using it in an emergency. For basic directions on how to administer Narcan, check out this article.
Act 139 also includes a condition called the “Good Samaritan Provision" to encourage friends and family members to call 911 for emergency services when someone is having an overdose without the fear of being arrested for having illegal substances. The law offers certain criminal and civil protections to persons who dial 911 in good faith to report an overdose. So, make sure to call 911 right away if you think someone is having an overdose.