The rise of drug use and addiction has created a new reality for the medical community, one in which the overdose reversal drug naloxone is no longer just an emergency room treatment. Naloxone is now carried by many first responders, including paramedics and urban police officers.
However, it is not as prevalent in wilderness settings where medical emergencies are more difficult to treat and there can be significant delays before help arrives. No ambulance or hospital will come running if you break your leg on a backpacking trip or have trouble breathing during a whitewater rafting expedition.
This leaves outdoor professionals such as guides, instructors, and search-and-rescue volunteers with few tools beyond CPR to help someone suffering from an opiate overdose out in the wilds of nature.
While many people are aware that naloxone is a life-saving drug that reverses the effects of opiates and may be carried by first responders, it is not always included in emergency kits for wilderness environments.
In this article, we’ll look at 3 reasons why you should carry naloxone in your first aid kit as a wilderness medic, whether you’re working on a search and rescue team or as an outdoor educator.
What is Naloxone?
First things first, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a quick look at what Naloxone actually is.
Naloxone, which also goes by the brand name Narcan, is an antidote for opiate overdoses. It reverses the effects of opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, methadone, and others by binding to opioid receptors and blocking them from binding to the brain cells that produce dopamine.
Naloxone was initially developed as a safer alternative to morphine. The success of naloxone in reversing opiate overdose made it a useful emergency treatment for people who use opioids.
When administered during a drug overdose, naloxone works by displacing opioid molecules from their receptors in the brain. This causes the central nervous and respiratory systems to return to normal function.
Naloxone is particularly useful because of how fast it works, as it usually takes effect within 2-3 minutes. This makes naloxone an excellent choice for people who are on-scene treating someone suffering from opioid overdose but have no other medical supplies on hand.
1. Naloxone is often free or low-cost
Naloxone is often free or low-cost. Some pharmacies will even give it to you for free if you have a prescription drug card. You can also buy it at any pharmacy without a prescription in many states.
Naloxone is also available through drug-user harm reduction programs or local police departments. If you are working on a search and rescue team, it may be easier to access naloxone by going through your local police department or another law enforcement agency.
2. Naloxone can be easily administered through a nasal spray
Naloxone is available as an injectable, intranasal, or transdermal (absorbed through the skin) solution, and a new formulation for self-injection by patients who are addicted to opioids is currently being investigated. This makes it easier to administer than other opioid reversal medications, which require a syringe and are not self-administered.
Check out this video from Denver Health that walks you through how to administer nasal Naloxone:
Because it is easy to administer and has few side effects, naloxone is often given as the first treatment for an unconscious person suspected of an opioid overdose.
3. Naloxone is very effective at saving lives
Naloxone is a lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of opioids. It is used by paramedics and urban police officers to save lives. It has been given to people who have overdosed on opioids, including heroin, prescription pain relievers, and methadone.
In fact, Naloxone is 93% effective in reversing an opioid overdose when it is administered by a first responder. A recent report from the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) also found that Naloxone kits distributed around the US saved more than 27,000 lives between 1996 and 2014.
While we can’t control every situation that happens in the wilderness, packing Naloxone in your hiking first aid kit can ensure that you’re prepared to quickly and easily save a life when the time comes.
Naloxone: A Simple Tool That Saves Lives
If you are a wilderness medic, there is no reason to not carry Naloxone with you. When it’s in your first-aid kit and easy to access in the wilderness, Naloxone can save lives if administered quickly.
While opiate overdoses in wilderness areas aren’t that common, it’s important to be prepared for whatever might come your way. Naloxone can save lives, and it’s your responsibility as a first responder in the wilderness to make sure that you are equipped with everything that you need to perform at your best under pressure.