Opioid overdose and mortality have increased at an alarming rate prompting new public health initiatives to reduce drug poisoning. One initiative is to expand access to the opioid antidote naloxone. Naloxone has a long history of safe and effective use by organized healthcare systems and providers in the treatment of opioid overdose by paramedics/emergency medicine technicians, emergency medicine physicians and anesthesiologists. The safety of naloxone in a prehospital setting administered by nonhealthcare professionals has not been formally established but will likely parallel medically supervised experiences. Naloxone dose and route of administration can produce variable intensity of potential adverse reactions and opioid withdrawal symptoms: intravenous administration and higher doses produce more adverse events and more severe withdrawal symptoms in those individuals who are opioid dependent. More serious adverse reactions after naloxone administration occur rarely and may be confounded by the effects of other co-intoxicants and the effects of prolonged hypoxia. One component of the new opioid harm reduction initiative is to expand naloxone access to high-risk individuals (addicts, abusers, or patients taking high-dose or extended-release opioids for pain) and their close family or household contacts. Patients or their close contacts receive a naloxone prescription to have the medication on their person or in the home for use during an emergency. Contacts are trained on overdose recognition, rescue breathing and administration of naloxone by intramuscular injection or nasal spraying of the injection prior to the arrival of emergency medical personnel. The safety profile of naloxone in traditional medical use must be considered in this new context of outpatient prescribing, dispensing and treatment of overdose prior to paramedic arrival. New naloxone delivery products are being developed for this prehospital application of naloxone in treatment of opioid overdose and prevention of opioid-induced mortality.
Keywords: antidote; drug-delivery systems; naloxone; opioid; overdose.