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How to Reverse an Overdose

Learn how to administer naloxone, known commonly by the brand name NARCAN®, to stop an overdose and save a life.

When experiencing an overdose, breathing can slow to the point of death. Giving naloxone to someone who has overdosed restores normal breathing, by reversing the effects of opioids. It is safe, easy to administer, and has no potential for abuse.

How to respond to an overdose using NARCAN®

View a visual of these instructions in English/Spanish

1. Check for signs of an overdose

  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Gurgling, choking, or snoring sound while breathing
  • Blue-gray lips and finger tips
  • Not reacting when you rub your knuckles on their chest

2. Call 911

  • Call 911
  • Say “someone isn’t breathing” and/or “I think it’s an overdose”

3. Give NARCAN®

  • Place tip into one nostril of person’s nose
  • Push pump to release entire dose
  • Go to Step 4
  • If no response, keep giving doses every 3 minutes, changing nostrils each time

4. Give rescue breaths

  • Make sure mouth is clear
  • Tilt head back, lift chin, pinch nose
  • Give 1 breath every 5 seconds
    • Make sure chest rises and falls with each breath

Note about rescue breathing during the COVID-19 public health emergency:

  • Bag-valve masks (BVMs) with a viral filter are the best way to support breathing during COVID-19
  • If you do not have a BVM and/or are not trained to use one, it is recommended that chest compressions be performed instead of rescue breathing
  • Before beginning rescue breaths or chest compressions, put a mask on yourself
  • An N95 mask is best, if you have one
  • If the person is wearing a mask, remove theirs AFTER you put yours on, then begin rescue breaths or chest compressions

5. Stay until help arrives

  • Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until help arrives
  • If person begins breathing well again, put them in the recovery position (see below)
  • Stay until help arrives, even if they seem better. (The Good Samaritan Law protects people who overdose, or seek help for someone overdosing, from being charged or prosecuted for simple drug possession.)
  • If you must leave for your personal safety, before you go:
    • Administer NARCAN®
    • Perform rescue breaths (if time)
    • Put them in the recovery position

The recovery position: 

Hand supports head. knees stop body from rolling onto stomach.

Overdoses involving fentanyl

Fentanyl is a strong, fast-acting opioid that can be purchased as is, or sold as other drugs. Most people who are overdosing start breathing again 3-5 minutes after being given naloxone. However, because of its strength, overdoses involving fentanyl can occur quickly, and may require multiple doses.

Fentanyl overdoses do not require special treatment. Simply follow the steps outlined above to recognize and respond to any overdose, whether you suspect fentanyl was involved or not.

Order a wallet card

You can order a bilingual wallet card from the Massachusetts Health Promotion Clearinghouse that contains simple instructions for recognizing and reversing an overdose using NARCAN®.