Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

What About Nebulized Naloxone (Narcan) – Part II

This is continuing from Part I about a recent paper looking at the use of nebulized naloxone (Narcan) to treat possible opioid OD (OverDose).

What are the indications for naloxone?

To diagnose heroin OD?


Absolutely not!


If we are that bad at assessment, that we need naloxone to identify a heroin OD, then we are not good enough at assessment to be treating patients with any medications.

The protocol-specified nebulization of 2 mg of naloxone with 3 mL of normal saline as empiric treatment for suspected opioid overdose or undifferentiated depressed respirations as long as the patient had some spontaneous respiratory effort, no apnea, and no severe cardiorespiratory compromise (shock, impending respiratory arrest).[1]

In other words, patients who probably will not receive much benefit from naloxone.

Excluded from analysis were cases where nebulized naloxone was given for opioid-triggered asthma and cases with incomplete outcome data.[1]

The omission of the patients (only 3 patients) with incomplete outcome data is legitimate, but not enough data is presented in the paper.

The omission of the asthma patients (21 patients) is interesting. Why not break them out into a different group and analyze with the asthmatics, without the asthmatics, and just the asthmatics? We are trying to find out what works and if it is safe, aren’t we?

Secondary outcomes included need for rescue naloxone (IV or IM), need for assisted ventilation by bag–valve–mask (BVM) assistance or intubation, and adverse antidote events (respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, death in the field).[1]

The word need is used rather casually. How do they define need?

Why are rescue naloxone, BVM assistance, and intubation not considered adverse antidote events, while respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, and death are considered adverse antidote events? I do not see the distinction.

I don’t think that naloxone-induced respiratory arrest is going to catch on as a diagnosis. Maybe they are referring to patients who did not receive enough naloxone, due to respirations that are too shallow?

We found that nebulized naloxone is a safe and effective needleless antidote for prehospital treatment of suspected opioid overdose in patients with spontaneous respirations. Eighty percent of the patients treated had some response to treatment, and only 10% of the patients were given a second dose of naloxone. No patient required intubation or BVM-assisted ventilation.[1]

Why were partial responders not given more naloxone?

Why were any of these patients given naloxone?

In our study, no patient signed out against medical advice and all patients were transported to the hospital.11 [1]

22% had complete response to the nebulized naloxone. 5% had complete response to the rescue naloxone.

Nobody refused treatment of transport?

How complete was the response?

Do the police threaten to arrest the patients unless they agree to transport? Why do all of the patients complete the transport?

The literature on intranasal naloxone exemplifies this problem, thus the GCS, respiratory rate (RR), and paramedic impression have been used as outcome measures by others as well.4 – 7 [1]

What about skin color and temperature?

What about pulse oximetry and waveform capnography? These are objective.

Maybe the outcome measures depend on the original indication for naloxone.

Is GCS (Glasgow Coma Score) important?

Not really.

The patient is not going to die of a depressed GCS. Depressed/absent respirations are a different story.

Finally, we did not compare nebulized naloxone with IV naloxone, the recognized “gold standard,” nor were we able to confirm opioid overdose through hospital records.[1]

Gold Standard?

For what?

The goal of treatment is a patient able to protect his own airway and breathing adequately, regardless of whether the patient has ever received any naloxone. Giving naloxone to a patient who meets these criteria is not good medicine.

To be continued in Part III.


[1] Can Nebulized Naloxone Be Used Safely and Effectively by Emergency Medical Services for Suspected Opioid Overdose?
Weber JM, Tataris KL, Hoffman JD, Aks SE, Mycyk MB.
Prehosp Emerg Care. 2011 Dec 22. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 22191727 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]


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