Vivitrol vs Narcan

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For patients coping with opioid addiction or alcohol dependence, certain drugs that interact with the body's opioid receptors can play a crucial role in managing cravings and preventing relapse. Vivitrol and Narcan are two such medications commonly used in the treatment of these forms of substance abuse. While they both act on the same type of receptor, their effects and uses are quite different. Vivitrol is an extended-release formulation of naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids, thereby reducing cravings and helping prevent relapse in recovering addicts when used as part of a comprehensive treatment program. On the other hand, Narcan (naloxone) rapidly reverses opioid overdose by binding to opioid receptors more strongly than opioids themselves do—effectively kicking opioids off the receptors—and is typically administered during emergency situations where an overdose is suspected.

What is Vivitrol?

Naltrexone (the generic name for Vivitrol) is a medication primarily used in the management of alcohol or opioid dependence. The drug was first approved by the FDA in 1984 and has since been instrumental in helping individuals maintain abstinence after detoxification from opioids or alcohol. Unlike Prozac, which influences neurotransmitters like serotonin, naltrexone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and blocking their activation, thereby reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms that can lead to relapse. It's important to note that while Vivitrol helps manage addiction, it does not treat underlying causes such as depression or anxiety.

On the other hand, naloxone (known widely under its brand name Narcan) is an emergency treatment for opioid overdose rather than a therapy for addiction itself. It rapidly reverses the dangerous effects of an overdose by displacing opioids from receptor sites in the brain where they cause harm. Despite these different applications within addiction treatment, both medications come with side effects - albeit generally less severe ones compared to older forms of substance use disorder treatments.

What conditions is Vivitrol approved to treat?

Vivitrol and Narcan are both approved for use in the context of opioid dependence, but they serve different functions:

  • Vivitrol is used as part of a comprehensive management program that includes psychosocial support to treat alcohol dependence and prevent relapse to opioid dependence, after opioid detoxification.
  • Narcan (naloxone) is an emergency treatment for known or suspected opioid overdose, characterized by decreased breathing or heart rates, or loss of consciousness.

How does Vivitrol help with these illnesses?

Vivitrol helps to manage opioid dependence by blocking the effects of opioids in the brain. It does this through its active ingredient, naltrexone, which firmly attaches to the same receptors in the brain that opioids would normally attach to. By occupying these receptors, Vivitrol prevents opioids from exerting their typical effects such as pain relief and euphoria. This action is thought to assist individuals with opioid dependence by reducing cravings and helping them abstain from using these drugs. Opioids are substances that can cause physical addiction due to changes they induce in brain chemistry over time. Therefore, by blocking their effects, Vivitrol can limit the negative impacts of opioid dependence and aid patients on their path towards recovery and maintaining sobriety.

What is Narcan?

Narcan, also known as naloxone, is an opioid antagonist - meaning it competes with opioids for the same receptors in the brain and body. It was first approved by the FDA in 1971. Narcan works by reversing or blocking the effects of opioids such as respiratory depression, sedation, and hypotension; it can be given intranasally or injected to rapidly reverse an acute opioid overdose. Because Narcan acts quickly (typically within minutes), it has become a crucial tool in emergency medicine for treating overdoses on drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers. However, unlike Vivitrol which is used primarily for long-term treatment of addiction due to its extended-release form, Narcan's quick action does not provide any ongoing support against cravings or withdrawal symptoms that may lead to relapse. Its safety profile is generally good with few side effects other than potential precipitated withdrawal if given to someone dependent on opioids.

What conditions is Narcan approved to treat?

Narcan, also known as naloxone, is approved by the FDA for immediate administration as emergency treatment when opioid overdose—either from drugs such as heroin or prescription medicines—is suspected. It can rapidly reverse the potentially lethal effects of an overdose, including slowed or stopped breathing. Narcan can be administered via injection or nasal spray and is often carried by first responders. Its use has proven to be a life-saving measure in countless situations involving opioid overdoses.

How does Narcan help with these illnesses?

Narcan, also known as naloxone, is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It works by binding to the same receptors in the brain that opioids attach to. The binding process blocks or reverses the effects of opioids, thereby helping restore normal respiration in someone whose breathing has slowed or stopped due to an opioid overdose.

Much like Vivitrol (naltrexone), Narcan acts on the opiate receptors in the central nervous system; however, its action differs significantly. Instead of blocking cravings over time like Vivitrol does for alcohol and drug dependency treatment, Narcan acts as an emergency reversal agent with immediate effect during an active overdose situation. This makes it a vital life-saving tool amidst rising concerns about opioid abuse and addiction.

How effective are both Vivitrol and Narcan?

Both naltrexone (Vivitrol) and naloxone (Narcan) are opioid antagonists with key roles in managing opioid addiction, but their uses differ significantly. Vivitrol is used as a preventative measure to help reduce cravings and maintain abstinence in individuals recovering from opioid dependence, while Narcan acts as an emergency antidote for acute opioid overdose.

A 2006 double-blind clinical trial found that monthly injections of extended-release naltrexone were effective at reducing substance use and promoting complete abstinence among patients with alcohol dependence. Patients receiving the medication reported fewer heavy drinking days per month than those on placebo. A similar study conducted in Russia demonstrated its efficacy in preventing relapse among heroin-dependent individuals following detoxification.

The effectiveness of Narcan has been well-documented since it was first approved by the FDA in 1971. It works within minutes to reverse respiratory depression caused by an overdose of opioids – a potentially life-saving effect. A review published in 2016 found that community-based programs distributing naloxone have reversed over 26,000 overdoses between 1996 and June 2014, demonstrating its vital role during an opioid overdose crisis.

While both drugs have established histories of success when used appropriately, they serve different roles within the context of managing opioid addiction: Vivitrol helps maintain long-term recovery after detoxification while Narcan is crucial for immediate response to life-threatening situations involving excessive opioids.

abstract image of a researcher studying a bottle of drug.

At what dose is Vivitrol typically prescribed?

Vivitrol is administered as an intramuscular injection once a month, with the standard dose being 380 mg. It's used to prevent relapse in people who became dependent on opioid medicine and have stopped using it. Vivitrol should be part of a comprehensive management program that includes psychosocial support. On the other hand, Narcan (naloxone) is used to reverse opioid overdose, blocking the effects of opioids both in the brain and body and can be life-saving when administered promptly. The recommended initial dose for adults is often one spray into one nostril using the Narcan Nasal Spray device (4mg). If needed, additional doses can be given every 2-3 minutes until emergency medical assistance arrives.

At what dose is Narcan typically prescribed?

Narcan treatment is typically administered in emergency situations where opioid overdose symptoms are present. The initial dose for adults or children is 0.4 mg to 2 mg, given as an intravenous, intramuscular, or subcutaneous injection. If the response isn't sufficient after 2-3 minutes, additional doses of Narcan can be provided at intervals of 2-3 minutes. Each dose should not exceed 10mg and should be spaced a few minutes apart to ensure the patient's condition improves adequately before administering another dose. It's vital that you seek immediate medical attention even if symptoms seem to improve following a Narcan dosage.

What are the most common side effects for Vivitrol?

Some of the most common side effects for Vivitrol include:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness and irritability
  • Insomnia or other sleep-related problems
  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
  • Muscle cramps or joint pain
  • Cold symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy nose, sinus pain or a sore throat

On the other hand, Narcan can cause some different side effects like:

  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations (feeling your heartbeat)
  • Body aches or weakness
    -Nausea or vomiting

abstract image of a patient experiencing side effect

Are there any potential serious side effects for Vivitrol?

Although Vivitrol and Narcan are both used in the context of opioid dependence, they have different side effects to be aware of:

In some rare cases, Vivitrol can cause severe injection site reactions. Signs to watch for include:

  • Intense pain at the injection site
  • Swelling, hardening or even necrosis (tissue death) around the area where the shot was given
  • Allergic pneumonia: coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Eosinophilic pneumonia: high fever lasting several days along with chills and sweats
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica – a condition causing muscle pain/stiffness usually concentrated in your neck, shoulders and hips.

Similar to other medications that block the effects of opioids, Vivitrol may also increase risk of overdose if opioids are taken after treatment is stopped or doses are missed.

Narcan on the other hand might cause withdrawal symptoms such as body aches, a rapid heart rate, fever and mood swings. In rare instances it could lead to cardiac arrest due to abrupt reversal of opioid depression.

It's critical that any unusual symptoms experienced while using either drug should be reported immediately to your healthcare provider for assessment.

What are the most common side effects for Narcan?

Narcan, also known as naloxone, can have side effects that include:

  • Nervousness, restlessness or irritability
  • Body aches and muscle weakness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Sneezing and runny nose
  • Increased heart rate Please note: these side effects often occur when Narcan is used to reverse an opioid overdose. If this medication is administered for any other reason without the presence of opioids in the body, it generally does not cause significant adverse reactions.

Are there any potential serious side effects for Narcan?

Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It's generally considered safe and is often administered by non-medical personnel. However, it can sometimes lead to adverse reactions. These critical symptoms may include:

  • Signs of allergic reaction: This could involve hives or itching, difficulty breathing, swelling in the face or throat area.
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms: Sudden onset of uncontrollable trembling, vomiting, intense restlessness and anxiety.
  • Heart issues: Abrupt changes in heart rate including unusually fast or irregular heartbeats should be reported immediately.
  • Mood changes: Confusion or unusual shifts in mood can occur post-administration.

If you experience any of these side effects after receiving Narcan treatment for an opioid overdose,you should seek medical attention immediately.

Contraindications for Vivitrol and Narcan?

Both Vivitrol and Narcan, along with most other opioid antagonist medications, may precipitate withdrawal symptoms in people who are dependent on opioids. If you notice your withdrawal symptoms worsening or an increase in pain, restlessness, or irritability after taking these medications, please seek immediate medical attention.

Neither Vivitrol nor Narcan should be taken if you have been using opioids within the last 7-14 days (for Vivitrol) or are currently experiencing opioid overdose symptoms (for Narcan). Always inform your physician about any drugs that you are taking; this is especially important because opioids will need to clear from the system to prevent severe withdrawal reactions when starting treatment with Vivitrol. In case of an emergency where someone is suspected of having an opioid overdose, Narcan can be used as a temporary measure while waiting for medical assistance.

How much do Vivitrol and Narcan cost?

For the brand name versions of these drugs:

  • The price for a single dose injection of Vivitrol (380 mg) averages around $1,500 per month, which works out to be about $50/day.
  • The cost of Narcan nasal spray varies depending on where you live and whether you have insurance. However, it's typically around $130 - $150 for two doses.

Thus, if you are considering ongoing treatment with Vivitrol or need access to Narcan frequently due to high risk situations, the daily cost is significantly higher for Vivitrol. However, as always please note that cost should not be a primary consideration in determining which drug is right for your situation.

For generic versions of these medications:

  • Naltrexone (the active ingredient in Vivitrol) oral tablets can be obtained at lower costs than injectable form but its effectiveness depends much more heavily on patient adherence.
  • Naloxone (active ingredient in Narcan) does not currently have an FDA-approved generic equivalent available over-the-counter although some states do provide low-cost or even free kits through public health programs. Always make sure you're getting any medication from a reputable source.

Popularity of Vivitrol and Narcan

Vivitrol, a brand name for naltrexone, is an extended-release formulation that is administered via injection once per month. It was developed to treat opioid addiction and alcohol dependence by blocking the euphoric effects associated with these substances. In 2020, Vivitrol had been prescribed to around 150,000 people in the US.

On the other hand, Narcan (naloxone) is an emergency medication used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Unlike Vivitrol which requires prescription and regular administration by healthcare professionals as part of treatment program for addiction, Narcan can be obtained without a prescription in many states in America due to its critical role as a lifesaving intervention during opioid overdoses.

In contrast with Vivitrol’s use as preventive measure against relapse into substance abuse over time, Narcan's usage has dramatically increased within recent years due to rising rates of opioid overdose emergencies throughout the country. While they both act on similar brain receptors involved in addiction pathways - thereby drawing comparison between them - their roles within patient care are distinctively different yet equally essential.


Vivitrol (naltrexone) and Narcan (naloxone) play crucial roles in managing opioid addiction, but they serve different purposes and have distinct mechanisms of action. Vivitrol is an opioid antagonist used as part of a comprehensive treatment program for individuals who are already detoxified from opioids. It blocks the euphoric effects of opioids thus reducing cravings, with its once-monthly injection offering adherence advantages.

On the other hand, Narcan serves as an emergency treatment during suspected acute opioid overdose situations by rapidly reversing the life-threatening respiratory depression due to opiate overdosing. It acts almost immediately when administered via intranasal or intramuscular routes.

Combining these treatments could be potentially beneficial under certain circumstances but would require careful clinical monitoring due to their opposing pharmacological actions. Both medications are available in generic form which can contribute to cost savings especially for patients paying out-of-pocket.

Side effects may differ between the two: while Vivitrol side effects include nausea, headache, dizziness among others; those associated with Narcan use mainly arise from abrupt reversal of opioid effects leading to withdrawal symptoms like body aches, fever, rapid heart rate etcetera. Regardless of medication used for treating opioid dependence or overdose situation it's vital that patients remain closely monitored throughout their course.