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What Is Naloxone Hydrochloride?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated May 17, 2024
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Naloxone hydrochloride is a drug that’s often used to treat the symptoms of emergency overdose or withdrawal of opioid drugs. It is usually administered intravenously to counteract an overdose of drugs like heroin or morphine, and it can lessen the symptoms of withdrawal when a patient is addicted to these drugs. In certain cases, doctors use Naloxone HCl to treat instances of septic shock in which the patient is at risk of death from overdose. It is considered a pure opioid antagonist, meaning it counteracts or reverses the effects of opioid drugs in the patient’s system.

When a patient is admitted to the hospital following an opioid overdose and is suffering from toxicity, Naloxone hydrochloride is often administered to reverse the effects. Signs of an opiate overdose can include coma, convulsions, and extreme sedation. When the patient is suffering from respiratory depression, a dosage of Naloxone HCl will often reverse the effects and restore normal breathing. If doctors are unsure whether an emergency patient has overdosed, a small amount of the drug is often administered; a good response to Naloxone HCl will confirm the diagnosis of opiate toxicity. In cases of opioid-induced septic shock, doctors have used the drug to cause an increase in patient blood pressure, although it has not been shown to reduce the rate of fatalities in these patients. Finally, Naloxone HCl can be used in cases where illegal drug use is suspected; if a small dose is administered into the patient’s system, it can instantly cause withdrawal-like symptoms.

Naloxone hydrochloride is often administered by an intravenous injection, and takes effect within one to two minutes. It can also be administered by an intramuscular injection, in which case it takes effect within two to five minutes. Naloxone HCl interacts with receptors in the central nervous system to counteract the effects of opiates, but the exact mechanism by which this happens is unknown. The drug is metabolized by the liver and excreted from the body through urine. Up to 70 percent of the drug leaves the body after the first 72 hours. The drug is known to cross the placental wall, but is believed to be safe for use in pregnant women suffering from an opiate overdose. The American Food and Drug Administration has listed it as a pregnancy Category B drug.

Naloxone hydrochloride is contraindicated in patients with a history of allergic reaction to the drug, and also in patients with pulmonary disease or cardiovascular disease. It is also not recommended in patients that are known to be addicted to opiates, because it can often induce instant withdrawal symptoms. The use of Naloxone HCl can cause extreme side effects including convulsions, increased or decreased blood pressure, pulmonary edema and violent behavior. Less severe effects include profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting and trembling.

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