What is Naloxone?

This post was updated on July 7, 2017


Naloxone is a safe, highly effective chemical compound that reverses the effects of opiates such as heroin. It has been used in clinical settings as an emergency treatment for opiate overdose for 40 years. Naloxone has been approved for use in Canada for over 40 years and is on the World Health Organization List of Essential Medicines. Naloxone has no potential for abuse – in the absence of narcotics it exhibits essentially no pharmacologic activity. Naloxone will work only for drugs in the opiate/opioid family – it is not effective for overdoses of other drugs such as cocaine.

This treatment can be administered by a by-standard and is available as a non-prescription in Canada. Please note that Naloxone does not replace professional medical treatment and “Emergency medical assistance (calling 911) should always be requested when an opioid overdose is suspected.” Health Canada recommends calling first then immediately administering Naloxone. Multiple doses may be required to reverse an overdose.

What is a NARCAN kit and is it different than the nasal spray?

There are now two common types of Naloxone available in Canada: injectable and nasal spray administrations. NARCAN is the brand that is producing the products available in Canada. They produce both the NARCAN Kits which include the injectable naloxone and syringe, and the nasal spray. Depending on where Naloxone is injected, it begins to work in less than 2 minutes or up to 5 minutes. The fastest way to administer naloxone is by injecting it into a vein. The nasal spray effects start in 2 – 3 minutes. (1)

Both versions are now available as a non-prescription treatment. The injectable version was approved by Health Canada as non-prescription in March 2016 followed by the nasal spray in October 2016.

How can Naloxone help reduce the number of drugs deaths?

Naloxone can play a major role in preventing deaths – especially if it can be administered to someone in overdose as early as possible. To maximize the impact of Naloxone on drug deaths, it is necessary to have Naloxone available at the scene of the overdose before specialist help arrives. This means that Naloxone has to be available to members of the community for emergency use. Note that emergency services should always be requested as soon as an overdose is suspected then the Naloxone should be administered immediately.

Where Can I Access Naloxone?

Naloxone is available as a non-prescription across Canada and anyone is available to carry it. Pharmacies carry Naloxone and some provinces and non-profits offer Naloxone to take home for free.

Training sessions are available through many organizations to learn how to administer Naloxone.

Find Naloxone in Alberta 

Find Naloxone in British Columbia 

Find Naloxone in Saskatchewan 

Find Naloxone in Manitoba 

Find Naloxone in Ontario 

Find Naloxone in Quebec and information here 

Find Naloxone in the Northwest Territories 

Find Naloxone in the Yukon 

There are no Naloxone locators available online for the following provinces, however Naloxone is available at pharmacies across Canada. The following information is available:

Additional information for Nunavut

New Brunswick – find a pharmacy 

and Nova Scotia health centre locations 

Access to Naloxone varies around the world, including take-home doses for people who use illicit drugs in Europe and Australia, and across Canada. Scotland introduced a National Patient Group Directive in August 2010 to ease the development of take-home Naloxone programs. Naloxone is also available over the counter in Turin, Italy. There are over 180 successful take-home Naloxone programs in the U.S., such as Project Lazarus in North Carolina, which has helped to distribute Naloxone to individuals who are at risk due to prescribed opiates (2).

For more information – visit Health Canada’s Naloxone page

[1] Health Canada. 2017. “Frequently Asked Questions  Access to naloxone in Canada (including NARCAN™ Nasal Spray).” Accessed July 7, 2017 here
[2] Dasgupta, N. et al. 2008. “Project Lazarus: Overdose Prevention and Responsible Pain Management.” North Carolina Board of Medicine: Forum, p. 8.  Available here.
Connie Carter

About Connie Carter

Connie Carter, Ph.D. is the Senior Policy Analyst at the CDPC and a graduate of the UVIC Department of Sociology. She received a Bombardier Fellowship for her work analyzing citizen groups and government policy-makers as they responded to the issue of crystal meth use in BC in the early 2000s.

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