Double-blind, randomized study of nalmefene and naloxone in emergency department patients with suspected narcotic overdose

Ann Emerg Med. 1999 Jul;34(1):42-50. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(99)70270-2.


Study objectives: To compare the efficacy, safety, and withdrawal symptoms in emergency department patients with suspected narcotic overdose treated with nalmefene, an opioid antagonist with a 4- to 10-hour duration of action, with those treated with naloxone.

Methods: Adults in 9 centers who would otherwise receive naloxone for altered consciousness levels were randomly assigned to receive intravenous study drug (1 mg nalmefene, or 2 mg nalmefene or 2 mg naloxone, double-blinded) every 5 minutes as needed for up to 4 doses in a 4-hour study. Outcomes were 20-minute and 4-hour posttreatment changes in respiratory rates, Neurobehavioral Assessment Scale scores, Opioid Withdrawal Scale scores, and incidences of adverse events.

Results: Opioid positivity was recorded for 30 of 63 (1-mg nalmefene), 23 of 55 (2-mg nalmefene), and 24 of 58 (naloxone) cases, 75% of whom also had nonopioid central nervous system depressants. Most patients received only 1 dose of study drug. Similar, clinically meaningful improvements in respiratory rates and Neurobehavioral Assessment Scale scores were seen with all treatments. No statistical differences in efficacy or withdrawal outcomes were seen between treatment groups, and no significant overall time-treatment interactions occurred, in either the entire patient group or among opioid-positive cases (P >.21, all comparisons). Adverse events occurred in 30.9% (2 mg nalmefene), 15.9% (1 mg nalmefene), and 15.5% (naloxone) of patients (P >.08); none were associated with morbidity.

Conclusion: In this study of patients with varied potential causes of altered consciousness, nalmefene (1 mg and 2 mg) and naloxone (2 mg) appeared to be efficacious, safe, and to yield similar clinical outcomes.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Overdose / diagnosis
  • Drug Overdose / drug therapy
  • Emergency Treatment / methods*
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Naloxone / therapeutic use*
  • Naltrexone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Naltrexone / pharmacology
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotics / poisoning*
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Respiration / drug effects
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics
  • Naloxone
  • Naltrexone
  • nalmefene