The difference between effects of IN and IV naloxone was recently studied. This study looked at the time from patient contact until respiratory depression was reversed for the two administration routes. The researchers found that the total time from patient contact to clinical response was shorter when naloxone was given IN. The time from administration to response is faster with IV administration, but this was an expected result. Additionally, they felt that IN administration was safer because the need for needle use around a drug abuser is eliminated.5
During a 2002 prospective study of 30 patients in Denver, IN naloxone was evaluated as a first-line agent for prehospital narcotic overdose. This study found that 91% of patients responded to IN naloxone alone, and 64% did not require prehospital IV access.11 This study raises debate over the potential benefit for basic life support providers to have a prefilled syringe of naloxone available for IN administration to patients with respiratory depression following opioid overdose. Currently, New Mexico allows BLS providers, police officers and family members of known addicts to carry naloxone for IN administration. Boston EMS also provides its BLS providers with IN naloxone.2
When prehospital providers cannot establish IV access for dextrose administration to patients experiencing hypoglycemia, their options include oral glucose or administration of glucagon. Oral glucose, as is well known, cannot be given when patients lack the ability to swallow (although it can be applied along the gum line and absorbed buccally in extreme situations).
Traditionally, glucagon is given as a 2 mg intramuscular injection; it can also be administered intranasally (2 mg IN is comparable to 1 mg intramuscular glucagon). Several studies have demonstrated that intramuscular glucagon produces a faster and larger rise in blood glucose levels than IN glucagon.2 Thus, when providers are properly trained, IM glucagon is preferred. First responders, however, can benefit from having a needleless system available for glucagon administration in unresponsive hypoglycemic patients. Additionally, IN glucagon may be beneficial in some unique circumstances. One example is when a patient is hypothermic and has poor peripheral circulation. Administering an IM drug to that patient would cause an extremely delayed drug response. Other examples of situations where nasal administration may be preferred include when a patient is contaminated and an adequate site cannot be cleaned, when a patient is combative, or when, because of extenuating circumstances, clothing cannot be removed to access an IM administration site.
Intranasal drug administration is safe and effective and has many applications to prehospital providers of all levels. Administered drugs do take longer to take effect than drugs administered intravenously; however, the time saved by not needing to establish an IV offsets this difference. When evaluating your system’s protocols, consider adding IN drug administration, and particularly consider its benefit in patients who may be seizing, hypoglycemic, experiencing a narcotic overdose or in pain.