Treating Overdose OTC: How Widespread Narcan Rollouts Could Save Lives

Photo credit © VCU Capital News Service, Flickr Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Photo credit © VCU Capital News Service, Flickr Creative Commons, some rights reserved. 

Across the United States, the first line of defense against opioid overdose is now available without a prescription. 


In March, the FDA approved Narcan® Nasal Spray for over-the-counter use, a move that could increase the drug’s accessibility and decrease the number of opioid overdose deaths nationwide. In recent years, opioid drug addiction and overdoses have become a major public health crisis. Deaths involving opioids have increased dramatically, and the need for broader preventative and protective treatment has become urgent. One such treatment is Narcan®, the most widely known brand of the drug naloxone. It is an opioid antagonist that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The availability of Narcan has been a game-changer in saving lives and preventing opioid-related deaths.


Narcan is a medication that may be administered through a nasal spray or injection. It works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as opioids, blocking the effects of the drugs and reversing the overdose. When given intranasally, the drug can be administered by anyone, regardless of their medical training, making it an ideal option for emergency situations. It acts within seconds and lasts for approximately 30-90 minutes. Emergency evaluation after use is still critical.

Video credit © Emergent Devices Inc. via

One of the primary advantages of making Narcan available over the counter is that it increases its accessibility. Previously, Narcan was only available with a prescription. Even with efforts by healthcare providers, pharmacists and community workers to improve accessibility, ultimately the need for a prescription has still created a significant barrier to access. With the new FDA regulations, those affected personally by opioid addiction, those who need to use opioids for chronic or cancer-related pain, as well as patients’ family members or friends, can purchase Narcan from a pharmacy without a prescription. By making Narcan available over the counter, people can purchase the medication without having to pay for a doctor’s visit or other medical evaluation, reducing the financial burden associated with opioid overdose treatment. Some local initiatives in areas like Chicago, New York, and Kentucky have started rolling out programs to dispense Narcan for free in pop-up clinics or vending machines in high-impact zones (see articles below). Maine has even introduced a new law requiring law enforcement officers to carry naloxone, which will go into effect January 1, 2024. 


In addition to making Narcan more accessible, it is also important that individuals whether they are healthcare professionals, concerned family members or patients themselves receive the opportunity to learn about opioid overdose management and how to properly administer Narcan. This is where Full Code, a training program for healthcare professionals, can play a critical role. Our virtual simulations provide key clinical teaching and critical decision training on opioid overdose management and a wide range of other topics. By educating individuals on opioid overdose management, we can help ensure that Narcan is used safely and effectively in emergency situations and can save lives! Try playing the featured case below to test your own skills treating a suspected opioid overdose patient. 


The availability of Narcan over the counter is a significant development in the fight against the opioid epidemic. It increases the accessibility of this life-saving medication and reduces the costs of securing treatment. However, it is crucial that individuals learn about opioid overdose management and how to properly administer Narcan. Simulation training through Full Code can provide essential education on this topic, helping to ensure that Narcan is used safely and effective in saving lives. Together, increased accessibility and education can have a significant impact on reducing the devastating effects of the opioid crisis.

Suspected Overdose:
Can you save the patient?

A 24 year-old female was brought in by her roommate due to lethargy and decreased responsiveness. Can you save the patient?

"Sleepy child after a playdate"
Can you save the patient?

A 5 year-old child presents with increased sleepiness after a playdate at a neighbor's house. Can you save the patient?

Walgreens Announces Over-the-Counter (OTC) NARCAN® Nasal Spray Will Become Available This September.” Businesswire. August 30, 2023.


U.S. Food & Drug Administration. “FDA Approves First Over-the-Counter Naloxone Nasal March 29, 2023. 


Mulvihill, Geoff. “FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan. Here’s what it means.” AP News.  March 29, 2023.


CBS New York Team. “Public health vending machine in Brooklyn dispensed 100 Narcan kits in 1st week, officials say.” CBS News. June 19, 2023.


Homer, Ted. “Gov. Mills signs law requiring law enforcement officers to carry naloxone.WGME CBS 13 News. June 19, 2023.


Garcia Hernandez, Francia. “‘Narcan’ newsstands installed across the West Side.Austin Weekly News. June 20, 2023. 


Health Department giving away doses of Narcan; True North providing free bus passes and food.” The Owensboro Times. June 21, 2023. 


Campbell, Nancy. OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose. The MIT Press. March 3, 2020. 

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