I rank Narcan 9 out of the 33 drugs we carry.

We give it for suspected opiate overdose where the patient is breathing less than 8 times a minute or is otherwise hypoventilating.

I only gave Narcan once last year. True, I no longer work in the inner-city where I gave it a fair amount more, but I also give it far less routinely than I once did.

The following is excerpted from a post “That Narcan Shit” from December of 2008.

When I was in paramedic school one of my instructors boasted of fellow medics bringing junkies into ERs with a loaded narcan syringe in the junkie’s IV, and slamming the Narcan as they’d go through the ED door so the junkie would sit up and puke all over the medic’s nemesis — the evil nurse at triage. We all thought that was funny in class, and while I have heard versions of this story told by many people from many parts of the country, I never did it and never saw anyone do it or even heard of it really truly happening.

I did, however, slam Narcan into lots of junkies and wake them up. When I say slam, I’m not taking about pushing the Narcan in like I push Adenosine, but I probably pushed it as fast as I would push a routine flush. In other words, too fast for narcan.

I’d slam it. They’d puke, curse, rip their IV out and stalk off. One guy I found in an abandoned building. His brother had flagged us down. The man had been missing for a day until his brother discovered him. He was out cold, but he was still breathing. I was real new and excited and so I am sure I pushed the Narcan way too fast. I probably gave the full 2.0 dose all at once as well. The next thing I knew the man who was now semi-awake was in such severae pulmonary edema that I was hitting him with Lasix (a drug for another blog post). The sudden pulmonary edema was completely unexpected. I asked a doctor at the ED about it, and she said, it can happen when you push Narcan. I’d had no idea.

Over the years my practice has changed. Maybe I was improperly instructed at the beginning, but I went from putting an IV into every junky and slamming the Narcan to doing it IM or SQ and pushing it very slowly and just a small amount (0.4 mg) at a time. Just enough to get their respirations going and not even wake them up fully.

Slamming a full dose of Narcan is not a good thing to do. Its puts them into sudden withdrawal and that is not good. Nor is the violence that may ensue.

It used to be if I was called for an OD and the patient had used Heroin, they got Narcan even if they were breathing okay. As long as they were slightly altered, I’d hit them with it. Even if they were talking to me. I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

“Did you do drugs?”


“Then why do you keep dropping asleep?”

“I didn’t do drugs.”

I’d push the Narcan. They are wide awake and puking. Stupid. Them and me.

“Did you do drugs?”


“Then why are you wide awake now and puking?”

I don’t give narcan now as much as I used too because I don’t work in the city nearly as much, plus now, like I said, I only give Narcan if I suspect an opiate overdose and the patient’s respirations are extremely depressed. Sometimes I bring Heroin users in to the hospital and the first thing the hospital staff does is give the patient Narcan. Wake them up and make them puke. I shake my head. That’s just no way to treat people. Put them in a hallway and let them sleep it off — as long as they are breathing okay.

We also used to give Narcan as a diagnostic for coma of unknown etiology. That was an indication listed in our protocols. We removed that indication several years ago, and I think it is a good thing.

Here’s two cases where I gave narcan to coma of unknown origin with bad consequences.

1. I had just started as a medic and found a paraplegic unresponsive in bed. He was a young guy who had been shot a few years before and ended up like he did — living in a small room with a bed, a big screen TV and stacks and stacks of DVDs. He was stuporous when I found him. I should also point out he had a bad fever. Knucklehead that I was, seeing his pin point pupils and all the prescription pain pills — opiates — I zapped him with Narcan. So now I went from a patient in a semi-coma due to a fever to a patient in a semi-coma due to a fever in excruciating pain. He became extremely agitated with good reason. I’d just zapped all the pain medicine he needed to tolerate living into the ether. My bad.

2. Called for a possible stroke, I found an 80-year-old female with altered mental status of sudden onset, unable to speak or respond. I loaded her quick, raced toward the hospital, calling in a stroke alert. I then happened to notice her pupils were pinpoint so, as a stab in the dark, I gave her Narcan. Amazingly she woke up within a minute. I told the driver to slow down and called the hospital back to say never mind about that stroke alert. I had woken granny up with narcan. The odd thing about it was I couldn’t find any opiates on her list of meds and she denied taking any drugs or even having a secret stash of cough syrup. Strange. At the hospital, her whole family was gathered around laughing with her when suddenly she gorked out again. She had a head bleed and her waking up (her lucid interval) had just happened to correspond with my giving her Narcan. So narcan as a diagnostic had actually led me to the wrong diagnosis.

Rogue Medic and Ambulance Driver have some excellent material on this whole issue of the inappropriate use of Narcan.

Narcan Solves the Riddle, Part I

More Rogue Medic Narcan Posts

Ambulance Driver Article “Naloxone: The Most Abused Drug in EMS”

I particularly like this quote from a Boston Medic that Ambulance Driver cites in his article:

“Addicts take opiates and other sedatives specifically to induce a pleasant stupor. If they’re lethargic and hard to arouse, but still breathing effectively, it’s not an overdose. It’s a dose.” – experienced Boston paramedic

Rogue Medic sites an excellent study done years ago in LA.

The empiric use of naloxone in patients with altered mental status: a reappraisal.

The study asked the following questions:

# 1 – Can clinical criteria (RR of 12 or less, pinpoint pupils, and circumstantial evidence of opiate abuse) predict response to naloxone (Narcan) in patients with acute alteration of mental status (AMS)?

# 2 – Can such criteria predict a final diagnosis of opiate overdose as accurately as response to naloxone?

-Hoffman JR, Schriger DL, Luo JS. The empiric use of naloxone in patients with altered mental status: a reappraisal. Ann Emerg Med. 1991 Mar;20(3):246-52

730 patients with Altered Mental Status received narcan prehospitally from paramedics brought to two LA hospitals over 1 year period

Only 25 patients (3.4%) demonstrated a complete response to narcan

32 (4.4%) manifested a partial or equivocal response.

673 (92%) had no response.

19 of 25 complete narcane responders (76%) were ultimately diagnosed as having overdosed

2 of 26 partial responders (8%) (with known final diagnosis)

4 of 195 non-responders (2%) (with known final diagnosis). Note: They only reviewed 195 of the 673 non responder charts.

Of the 25 complete responders to Narcan

19 had opiate overdose

6 had seizure or closed head injury.

Their conclusion was:

“The study indicates that there is no diagnostic benefit derived from the administration of naloxone to all AMS patients.”

“In addition, response to naloxone created a substantial amount of diagnostic confusion…”
-Ann Emerg Med. 1991 Mar;20(3):246-52

That study came out when I was still as EMT.

Good lessons, as I had learned the hard way.

The bottom line:

Just because they woke up after you gave them narcan doesn’t mean they woke up because you gave them narcan.

So you ask, what do I do if I don’t have Narcan in my kit (Narcan being the bubble drug that just didn’t make the Essential Eight)? The answer is I bag the patient or pop in an LMA or even intubate until the patient rouses (sometimes a good stimulation like an OPA in the throat is all an apneic Heroin addict needs), the Heroin wears off ,or I can get the patient to the hospital. But let’s say I have a third floor carry-down and my patient is 300 pounds, well then my Essential Eight List becomes an Essential Nine, and Narcan is in the club


Naloxone (Narcan)

Class: Narcotic antagonist

Action: Reverses the effects of narcotics by competing for opiate receptor
Will reverse respiratory depression cause by narcotics

Indications: Suspected overdose with depression of respiration and/or hypoxia

Contraindication: none for emergency field use

Side effect: Narcotic withdrawal

Dose: 0.4mg to 2.0mg – titrate to respiratory effort

Route: IV push; IM; IN; ET

Pedi dose: 0.1mg/kg (max 2 mg per dose)


  • Just a Medic says:

    I fear we’ve been doing paramedic students a disservice for years by teaching them Narcan dosing in milligrams, tradition notwithstanding. The “adult” bristoject contains 2 mg while the “pediatric” bristoject contains 0.4 mg. Those numbers sure don’t sound very big. Yet like Medicscribe, I don’t know any seasoned medics who would choose to administer doses so massive nowadays (nurse revenge excepted.)

    Maybe we should be teaching medic students micrograms instead. A good starting bolus of Narcan is 50 mcg, just like fentanyl. 50 mcg is much less than 400 mcg (“peds” bristoject) or 2000 mcg (“adult” bristoject). Thus, obviously, Narcan must be diluted before we can measure a dose and administer it.

  • Matt says:

    Interesting that your protocols, like mine, list ET as an acceptable route of administration. While I can probably fathom a scenario where I would want to give narcan to an intubated patient, it’s a bit of a stretch. For the most part, I think of it as an either-or thing: EITHER I administer naloxone to boost resirations, OR I intubate (or bag) them.

  • tacmed85 says:

    I give narcan all the time(in a 0.4 dose) it is probably my most used med(close run with D50), but then again my community is one of the top narcotics hot spots in the county. I do however get tired of people always giving it to overdose patients even when they clearly aren’t on a narcotic(I can 100% testify that narcan doesn’t do anything for meth). It seems like a lot of people use narcan to cover up the fact that they don’t know what to do.

  • Jo-Eivind Løkken says:

    I work as a paramedic in a small county just outside the capitol of Norway, Oslo According to our protocols, we give Narcanti/Naloxone 0,4 mg IM, and then 0,4mg IV, while we assist the patient with his or her respiration. We repeat the 0,4 IV doses up to 3-4 times, depending on the patients weight (over or under 70kg). We stops IV administration when the patient is beginning to wake up, and the respiratin is getting better. We are very satisfied with this protocoll, and it usually does the work. If we dont get the responding we hope, we`ll take the patient inn to the ER room.

  • Norwegian Paramedic says:

    I work as a paramedic in a small county just outside the capitol of Norway, Oslo. According to our protocols, we give Narcanti/Naloxone 0,4 mg IM, and then 0,4mg IV, while we assist the patient with his or her respiration. We repeat the 0,4 IV doses up to 3-4 times, depending on the patients weight (over or under 70kg). We stops IV administration when the patient is beginning to wake up, and the respiratin is getting better. We are very satisfied with this protocoll, and it usually does the work. If we dont get the responding we hope, we`ll take the patient inn to the ER room.

  • John, BC Rural Paramedic says:

    Our treatment guideline for opiate overdose or unconscious NYD (rules out hypoglycemia) is simple for BLS, 0.4mg IV, or 0.8mg SC, and transport to hospital, lights and sirens. However, as I work in a very rural area of British Columbia, and transport times are potentially greater than 30 minutes, there is the option of calling the ER doc for orders for a second dose. The goal is to support respiration, and really, odds are after the med is administered and there is no response it is one of two things: their overdose is greater than what can be dealt with in the back of the ambulance safely, or it isn’t an opiate.

  • totwtytr says:

    I don’t remember the last time I gave Narcan IV. Generally we give 1mg IM to unconscious, apneic overdoses. The onset is more gradual and the patients wake up far less likely to be combative. Rarely, we’ll give a second mg IM.

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  • Comments
    Thanks for the advice, love your books by the way!
    2015-09-27 04:04:59
    Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut unless you have something to say. Be nice to everyone, especially your patients. Keep showing up.
    2015-09-27 00:55:46
    The 6 Rs – The Right Drug
    You are right. I wrote the post so long ago, it is hard to remember. Perhaps I meant to write salicylates. Who knows. Good catch.
    2015-09-27 00:54:32
    The 6 Rs – The Right Drug
    ASA is not an NSAID.
    2015-09-24 12:50:52
    Hey PC, do you have any solid advice for someone new to EMS?
    2015-09-18 23:27:32

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