Does Narcan Availability Enable Drug Abuse & Addiction?

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on May 27, 2023

Some people worry that the increased availability of Narcan will enable drug addiction by making drug use less risky. However, studies suggest that increasing access to Narcan does not lead to higher rates of drug misuse or addiction.

In 2020, 81% of Ohio drug overdose deaths involved the synthetic opioid fentanyl. To prevent deaths caused by fentanyl and other opioids, first responders administer Narcan. This life-saving medication can quickly reverse an opioid overdose

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Narcan for over-the-counter sales. While many people praise this decision, others worry it will enable drug addiction (substance use disorder). 

Here are the facts about Narcan and its impact on individuals with addiction. 

What Is Narcan?

Narcan is the brand name for a medication called naloxone. It comes in two forms: a nasal spray and an injectable form. Only the nasal spray has been approved for over-the-counter use. 

Both forms of the medication can reverse an opioid overdose by blocking the effects of opioids and restoring the person’s breathing if it has slowed or stopped. 

Is Narcan Safe?

You can safely administer Narcan to people of all ages. It’s not addictive, and it won’t get the person high. 

If the person has not ingested opioids, Narcan won’t have any effects (positive or negative). If the person has opioid use disorder (opioid addiction), they may experience opioid withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking, and vomiting. 

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When Should You Carry Narcan?

To help reduce opioid overdose deaths, the FDA recommends that you carry Narcan if:

  • you use prescription opioids
  • you have opioid use disorder
  • you care for someone at risk of an opioid overdose

Narcan is a form of harm reduction. Harm reduction is a public health approach that seeks to reduce the negative effects of drug misuse (including overdose) among people with addiction. 

It does not encourage drug misuse. It simply aims to keep people with addiction alive and safe, even if they are not yet ready to seek treatment. 

Does Narcan Availability Enable Drug Addiction?

Some people fear that the increased availability of Narcan will enable drug addiction. More specifically, they worry that people with addiction will view Narcan as a “safety net” that makes drug misuse less risky and more appealing. 

Indeed, Narcan significantly reduces the risk of fatal overdose among people who misuse drugs. However, studies suggest that it does not encourage drug misuse or enable addiction.

No Evidence Of Increased Drug Use

In a 2014 study published in the journal BMC Public Health, researchers gave naloxone to nearly 5,000 heroin users in Massachusetts. 

They found no evidence of increased heroin use. Another 2014 study found that training injection drug users to use naloxone actually led to a decrease in heroin use. 

Similarly, a 2016 study published in the journal Addiction found no evidence to support the claim that take-home naloxone programs (programs that give free naloxone to people at risk of opioid overdose) encourage heroin use. 

The Myth Of “Narcan Parties”

In contrast, a 2018 economic research paper claimed that increasing access to naloxone encourages opioid misuse and leads to more opioid-related emergency room visits and theft. 

However, medical researchers and addiction specialists have pointed out several issues with this paper. 

For instance, the authors lacked medical research experience, and their research was not peer-reviewed. The medical research community views the peer review process as an essential way to determine a study’s trustworthiness. 

The authors also erroneously suggest that people with addiction seek out Narcan for a better high. They mention “Narcan parties,” which are events where people with addiction allegedly overdose on purpose and then revive each other with Narcan. 

However, medical researchers have debunked these parties as an urban legend. 

Narcan causes uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms in people with opioid addiction. Many of them dread taking the drug, even though it’s life-saving. In other words, it’s unlikely that someone with addiction would view Narcan as a convenient way to get high without fatally overdosing.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, it’s impossible to claim that Narcan will never be used as a safety net by someone battling addiction. However, the life-saving nature of the medication outweighs this risk. 

By preventing overdose deaths, Narcan gives people the chance to seek addiction treatment and build healthy, fulfilling lives. 

That’s why the FDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all champion the medication as an important tool in fighting the opioid crisis.

If you or someone you love struggles with drug use, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer medical detox, mental health counseling, and other evidence-based treatments to help you or your loved one stay drug-free.

  1. Addiction — Are take-home naloxone programmes effective? Systematic review utilizing application of the BradfordHill criteria
  2. BMC Public Health — Overdose rescues by trained and untrained participants and change in opioid use among substance-using participants in overdose education and naloxone distribution programs: a retrospective cohort study
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Lifesaving Naloxone
  4. EMS1 — Research Analysis: Conclusions about 'moral hazard' of naloxone not supported by methodology
  5. Food and Drug Administration — Access to Naloxone Can Save a Life During an Opioid Overdose
  6. IZA Discussion Papers — The Moral Hazard of Lifesaving Innovations: Naloxone Access, Opioid Abuse, and Crime
  7. Journal of Urban Health — Naloxone distribution and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training for injection drug users to prevent heroin overdose death: A pilot intervention study
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse — Naloxone for Opioid Overdose: Life-Saving Science
  9. Ohio Department of Health — Drug Overdose

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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