Treating a drug overdose or a substance abuse disorder by giving a patient another drug may seem counterintuitive, but the results show success. That success is breaking down barriers as fighting drugs with drugs becomes a more accepted practice around the country.

The two main treatment drugs gaining in use, naloxone and naltrexone are often confused for each other because the names are similar. But, they have very different uses, so let’s begin by understanding the differences.


Naloxone, often known by the brand name Narcan, works quickly to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It accomplishes this by dislodging opioid molecules from the opioid receptors to which they are attached. This drug is usually administered by emergency personnel to people experiencing opioid overdoses that might otherwise be lethal. The administration of naloxone regularly saves lives.


Naltrexone is used to help people suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction. Unlike naloxone, it doesn’t reverse the effects of an overdose. Instead, it bonds to the same receptors in the brain that opioid or alcohol molecules would. By doing so, naltrexone blocks those molecules from interacting with the receptors. This limits or sometimes eliminates the effects of alcohol or opioids while also quieting the receptors, which helps lower the person’s craving for their drug of choice.

One common brand of naltrexone, Vivitrol, was designed as an extended-release drug. When a person ingests an extended release drug or medication, their body cannot digest it as quickly as other types of medications. This means the digestion and subsequent absorption into the body happens slowly, which keeps the active substance in the person’s system for a longer period of time.

Naltrexone’s ability to block the effects of other drugs and reduce cravings for them makes it ideal for helping to prevent relapse.

Resistance to the use of Substance Abuse Treatment Medication

Despite the clearly visible, positive effects of these drugs, their use meets resistance. Some of this resistance comes from people mistakenly thinking all drug abuse treatment medications are the same and not understanding the dangers of one don’t necessarily apply to all. For example, two other drugs commonly used to treat addiction, methadone and buprenorphine are actually opioids themselves. As such, people using them could become dependent on them. Often, people don’t see the logic of trading one addiction for another, even when the second substance is less harmful than the first. The resistance to the idea of trading one addiction for another then gets miscast onto other substances that are not likely to be addictive.

Fortunately for those in need of drugs like naloxone and naltrexone, the evidence of their effectiveness is finally starting to break down the walls of resistance.

Institutional use of Substance Abuse Treatment Medication

The City of Columbus Ohio recently announced additional funding to supply Emergency Medical Services (EMS) with additional naloxone. The Columbus City Council and the Columbus Public Health department each contributed $10,000 to increase the supply of naloxone and help save lives. Columbus EMS reportedly responds to up to seven calls per day in which people need emergency naloxone.

Zach Klein, Columbus City Council President told the Columbus NBC affiliate local news, “We have to give people the opportunity to get the treatment they need to pull themselves out of this cycle of addiction that can sometimes lead to the cycle of incarceration that can rip families apart and destroy our community.”

Equitas Health CEO Peggy Anderson added, “When we have a bad weekend we lose a lot of lives here in the city and I think a program where more people have access to naloxone can only improve the health and the well-being of our community.”

Anderson said the additional $20,000 would net 400 doses of naloxone. That could mean 400 lives saved.

While a wider adoption on naloxone saves lives, a wider adoption on naltrexone makes lives better.

A jail in Covington, Kentucky reduced its number repeat offenders after instituting a new drug treatment program that includes naltrexone. At the Kenton County Jail, Jason Merrick recently added the use of Naloxone to a treatment program that already includes 12-step support groups and psychotherapy. As part of this treatment program, inmates who are just about to be released are given an injection of extended-release naltrexone. Every month, those now former-inmates receive another injection.

Merrick, former addict and former inmate, told CBS News, “Once you are released from Kenton County, you have a 70 percent chance of coming back here.”

Inmates in Merrick’s new treatment program only have a 10 percent recidivism rate.

“This is what keeps people safe while they’re building those foundations of recovery,” said Merrick, “Giving them that extra level of support is essential to keeping them alive and building stronger communities.”

The success of this program caught the attention of the highest levels of government and it may soon become the blueprint for drug treatment programs in prisons nationwide.

Seeing institutions, like city councils and jails, embracing the use of medications to treat drug abuse and addiction is a positive sign that people in power really do care about people struggling with substance abuse issues. It shows an open mind and a willingness to find what works even if it goes against conventional thinking.

If you or a loved one feels a need to overcome an addiction, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout Southern California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

Using drugs to fight drug abuse gaining acceptance