The use of opioids, prescribed or not, comes with significant risks. In the U.S., opioid overdose remains a leading cause of accidental death and accounts for more than half of all overdose deaths, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

People who use recreational drugs — including cocaine and methamphetamine — also face an increased risk for opioid overdose. Recreational drugs may be contaminated with unknown amounts of potentially deadly opioids, such as fentanyl.

Naloxone is a first-line defense against such overdoses. If there are opioids in your home or you use recreational drugs, keeping naloxone on hand can help save a life. To get naloxone, talk to your VA provider.

What is naloxone?

Free to any Veteran who needs it and is enrolled in VA, naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. When used immediately after an overdose, naloxone can block the effects of opioids and help prevent death.

Naloxone can temporarily restore breathing, allowing time for medical help to arrive. Its effects are only temporary, so it is critical to seek medical assistance immediately after giving naloxone.

Naloxone can be administered as a nasal spray or an injection. It is safe to use and will have an effect only on someone who is overdosing.

Possible signs of opioid overdose include:

  • Unconsciousness.
  • Very small pupils.
  • Slow or shallow breathing.
  • Vomiting.
  • An inability to speak.
  • Faint heartbeat.
  • Limp arms and legs.
  • Pale skin.
  • Purple lips and fingernails.

Take the next step

If you are a Veteran taking opioids, or if you are a family member or friend who is concerned about a Veteran in your life, talk to your provider about naloxone. Veterans who are enrolled in VA health care and need naloxone can receive it for free.

Links to valuable information  

  • More information about opioid overdose and naloxone is available at https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/substance-use/overdose.asp.
  • Veterans and their families and friends can find support and schedule an appointment at the Substance Use – Take the Next Step.
  • Veterans in crisis or those concerned about a Veteran can contact the Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at net/Chat.
  • Coaching Into Care aims to educate, support and empower family members and friends who want to encourage a Veteran to seek treatment for problems with substance use or for mental health concerns. Call 888-823-7458.
  • The SAMHSA National Helpline offers confidential, free help from public health agencies that can direct you to substance use treatment and information. Call 1-800-662-4357.

If you see someone who is showing symptoms of overdose or who is in immediate danger, dial 911.

By Elizabeth Oliva, Ph.D.; Joseph Liberto, M.D.; Julianne Himstreet, Pharm.D. work for VA's Veterans Health Administration

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Published on Mar. 1, 2022

Estimated reading time is 2.2 min.

Views to date: 2,207

12 Comments

  1. James March 17, 2022 at 1:43 am

    I have bone marrow cancer and my oncologist has been able to control my pain from kemo and other meds.The VA wouldn’t give me the opioid meds that I have been taking for 12yrs.They are so afraid of prescription but they should have better training. I also did Stem cell transplant and they wouldn’t help.my oncologist said they should have given me these meds. I’m unable to walk without them

  2. DeadVet March 11, 2022 at 11:41 am

    Just anouther dumping ground program to push difficult veterans into that checks the box that the unaccountable VA provider provided care. You try to defend your medical record from thier fabrications and your labeled a threat and harrassed until I am ready go, no more pain.

  3. ANNETTE M. DAVIS March 8, 2022 at 1:39 pm

    I DON’T EVER REMEMBER THE VA GIVE ME OUT MEDICATIONS LIKE CANDY. I HAVE CHRONIC PAIN SYNDROME, ARTHRITIS ALL TYPES AND BONE ACHING LIFE THREATENING PAINS AND ACHES ALL OF MY ADULT LIFE, AND WHEN I WAS ACCEPTED INTO THE VA SYSTEM AS A BLACK FEMALE. I WAS TOLD; OH YOU HAVE TO LEARN TO LIVE WITH THE PAIN, OT ITS JUST AGING YOU HAVE WHEN YOU GET OLDER. SO WHAT VA DID YOU GO TO FOR HEALTHCARE. YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE THAT THE VA DOESN’T OFFER ANY FORM OF HELP OUTSIDE OF SURGERY AND ”CANDY”. THEN I CAN’T GET THE OTHER REMEDIES BECAUSE I, “MAKE TOO MUCH INCOME” OR ” IT ISN’T COVERED BY THE VA OR HEALTH INSURANCE DUE TO BLANK REASON”.. THE ISSUE I HAVE IS THE FACT THAT AS A PATIENT THAT SERVED IN THIS COUNTRY FOR YEARS, I CAN’T EVEN GET HELP FROM MY DOCTOR’S. THINK ABOUT WHAT I SAID.

    ANNETTE M. DAVIS

  4. Richard C. Med. Chem. March 4, 2022 at 9:53 pm

    Naloxone is not used as an ” anti- drug treatment ” it’s used as an opioid addiction treatment. Naloxone is an opioid full antagonist of all 3 opioid receptor sites, the Mu, Delta, and Kappa opioid receptor sites. It reverses an overdose due to its electronegativity value giving it a higher affinity for the MOR, DOR, and KOR,. Therefore kicking any and all other opioids and narcotic analgesics off those opioid receptors pretty much right away.

    (Buprenorphine), Suboxone however is an opioid, though it’s only a partial agonist of just the Mu opioid receptor site, also buprenorphine has what’s known as a ceiling limit meaning no matter how much you take, the Mu receptor will only partially crack the door open to release a very limited number of sodium ions from a voltage regulated gate on the post synaptic side of the brain cells synapse. Buprenorphine, being an opioid partial agonist also has the highest affinity for the Mu receptor of all other opioid analgesics, so if you’re taking any other opioids and switch over to buprenorphine it’s very very important you wait at least 2 days, 3 would be better. If you don’t wait between switching from other opioids to buprenorphine you will regret it your receptors will be completely naked all at once for about 8 hours you will be in full peak withdrawal it’s horrible.

  5. Gary L Sutton March 3, 2022 at 3:55 am

    I really dislike being put into the category of a drug addict. I have been prescribed opioids for 20 years. It is the only med that makes my chronic pain managable. In all those years not once have i misused this prescription. It is prescribed as time release morphine. Without it i would be curled up in a ball unable to move from so much pain. I would ask these bean counters in the higher up to really look at the situation and give us vets a break. We are just people looking for a way to be able to function as normal as possible. The va sends this naloxone every so often with warnings about overdose. I was told by doctors(not va) that using morphine if your body is in a lot of pain the morphine gets used up to alleviate pain. They said its not an addiction, but you are dependanton it. There is a difference as long as the med is used to stop nerve pain. It causes great stress on me to be put in the category of a drug addict. Im not going to die of overdose, not after 20 years. So tell the whole story .i really dont think its as dangerous as some other painkillers out there.i could only hope that when these docs who are putting all this mis- information out there about opioids, could include the truth about its use. Dont just automatically put us all in the bad category, its not very fair for us vets who have to sit and worry all the time about negative reports. Put some positive info out too to be fair. I wouldnt think this would be asking to much.
    .

  6. Charles Terry March 2, 2022 at 11:47 pm

    I as well feel your frustration of dealing with pain on a daily basis day and night and yes VA doctors not giving you the one thing that works but they’ll give you other drugs to be hooked on or addicted to …. It’s Unreal How They Know So They Say Yet Refuse To Give Me What I Need…… Pain Only Hurts When It’s Yours…….

  7. Charles W. March 2, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    I am so proud of what you stand for and I am so sorry for what you’ve been going through…beside my own situation, what I’ve read is another reason, I go through life with these watery & dried tears in my eyes 24/7. Functioning enough to survive., out of the military; yet, the heart is still serving, it has not released us, right? While I were still serving, prior service: vets, would come & share this news of commitment; I don’t know where it comes from, or how I got it; yet. from my gut-I love this attachment to America. I cannot deny, that I felt it coming on while in the military. If it were not for the Lord, I too would not even be able to recover from the fetal position, to stand up once more like a soldier should be able to, even one of prior service. Nevertheless to keep it firm, I’m so glad they have something for my veteran-soldiers to wake up from the after math of pain of a hard day’s work. God knows it’s true.

  8. Al March 2, 2022 at 9:17 am

    Naloxone could be used in other ways, as mentioned, but this article seems to be focused on its use to prevent overdose deaths by having it on hand at one’s home, kind of like epi-pens for those who have life threatening allergies. Just my interpretation.

  9. Michael March 2, 2022 at 12:17 am

    You know what? I’m really getting tired of article after article about the opioid crisis, and paints this picture that Vets in drives are just all junked out on opioids, and there is now this grande crusade by all you doctors, and so called professionals who now have done all these studies and now you want to remove the very one thing some of us veterans depend on…key f@#king word, depend on to even be able to function and do even basic tasks due to severe, and chronic pain, let’s just say in my case, because the military destroyed my spine, and spinal cord to the tune of 14 major surgeries, almost living in ICU”s and hospitals last 2 years as Neurosurgeons went to work and decompress my spine from t11 to s1 replacing all the ruptured discs several cutting off nerve conduction in my spinal cord, and putting so much titanium rods, screws, pins, and cages in to my spine that it looks like the steel structure of a sky scraper. I have rehab”d after each of these surgeries, which has become harder and harder each time, and I’m here once again, struggling getting enuf strength to stand and walk to the bathroom and back. So much pain you could not even begin to imagine you have to deal with 24hrs a day, every day. The opioid medication only makes the pain bearable enuf, that I’m not curled up in a fetal position whimpering like a dog that’s just been run-over by a truck. I don’t get high, or get any kinda buzz if the medications at all!! They relieve the pain enuf like I’ve said to just semi function, allow me to keep doing PT in hopes of building some strength back to have even some resemblance of a life. Not to mention, two knees completely wrecked, needing knee replacement in both knees, but can’t even begin to address that until I’m at least a year free of spinal surgeries. So now I have to deal w these so called pain mgt specialists at the VA hospital who are paroting these new policies making it more and more difficult to get the ONLY medications that help this type of chronic and severe pain. The same so called experts who in the past handed out opioids by the bottles like M&M”s any time a Vet even had a toothache. There needs to be a logical approach in prescribing these meds, and for those of us using these meds responsibly, and stop trying to take them away, taking away any hopes Vets like me have to half way function at middle age due to our torn up bodies courtesy of the US Military. Also, don’t get me wrong, I’d do it all over again, even knowing I’d be suffering as bad as I am now.

    • Theodore Mattson March 2, 2022 at 5:06 pm

      Chill out. I take naltrexone for alcohol abuse . As a combat veteran I understand the hell some go through and I have no vanity nor should any veteran seeing an article about this type of shit. Vet’s are killing them selves every day and your correct it isn’t all opioid stuff. But naltrexone saved my life it helped me not use alcohol to kill myself slowly.

  10. Robert Wi March 1, 2022 at 10:29 pm

    Who in the dog and pony show allowed this statement.

    Naloxone is one of the most overused anti-drug treatments, might as well give them this then Suboxone which is the world’s worst addictive “medicine” ever.

    Anything with oxone should be looked at much more closely.

    • Lori March 2, 2022 at 10:36 am

      I’m sorry to hear your dealing with all.this pain. I know exactly what your talking about how the va used to give meds out like candy then did an about face and stopped giving them to the very people that need them. I deal.with chronic pain myself so I can relate to being in terrible pain 24 hours a day. I take what little meds I can from the VA and try everything else I can to help with the pain. I’ve tried liquid cartridges where you vape a certain amount of medical marijuiana. That’s helped actually. You should try that if you already haven’t. Hang in there. Things will get better my fellow veteran. I was in the marine corps. Mu husband is retired navy.

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