Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can stop or reverse an opioid overdose. Within the scope of its national opioid overdose prevention and response strategy, the Québec government has implemented a program for free access to naloxone. An antidote to opioid overdose, naloxone is now available at pharmacies. Also, as part of the program, the supplies necessary to administer naloxone are free.
No prescription is needed. However, to obtain the medication, persons must be aged 14 or over, go to a pharmacy and present their Health Insurance Card or valid claim slip (carnet de réclamation) to the pharmacist. In the absence of the card or slip, the pharmacist can still provide the medication and supplies in an emergency. The pharmacist will also provide the instructions for the adequate and safe use of the product.
Some pharmacies order naloxone when someone asks for it. They can provide it within 24 to 48 hours. Other pharmacies keep the medication in stock and can give it to you right away at any time. Find pharmacies and health care settings who stock naloxone kits.
If you are close to someone using opioids or a health worker, you can also obtain the medication and accompanying supplies free of charge for prevention purposes.
Opioid addiction can start in many different ways. It can start with trying pills with friends to get high, or by slowly becoming dependent on prescription medication to help deal with severe pain. It can get addictive and as such become the main focus of someone’s life. This is especially true with youth where an opioid addiction can change their brain and their body in ways that can make it hard for them to stop using.
How does naloxone work?
Naloxone can restore breathing within 2 to 5 minutes. When you take an opioid, it affects certain receptors in your brain. Naloxone works by kicking opioids off the receptors in your brain and binding to those receptors instead. This reverses or blocks the effects of opioids on your body. Naloxone only works if you have opioids in your system, such as fentanyl, heroin, morphine, codeine, etc.
Why does naloxone only work temporarily?
While naloxone is only active in the body for 20 to 90 minutes, the effects of most opioids last longer. This means that the effects of naloxone are likely to wear off before the opioids are gone from the body, which causes breathing to stop again.
Naloxone may need to be used again, depending on the amount or type of opioid taken, or how the opioids were taken (for example: oral, injection).
If you suspect an overdose:
Is naloxone safe?
Naloxone is safe for all ages. It only works if you have opioids in your system. You cannot use naloxone improperly, and it does not create dependence. It is safe to keep a naloxone kit on hand.
What types of naloxone kits are available?
In Canada, two types of take-home kits are available:
- Naloxone nasal spray is sprayed directly into the nose, where it is absorbed. It starts to take effect in 2 to 3 minutes. Learn how to give naloxone spray (video).
- Naloxone injectable is injected into any muscle in the body, such as the arm or thigh. It starts to take effect in 3 to 5 minutes. Learn how to give a naloxone injection (video).
For more information:
- Find specific information on Youth & Opioids – What Do I Need to Know as a Parent