Tennessee is grappling with what the Tennessean calls a “fentanyl crisis” – medics in Pennsylvania have been hospitalised following exposure to the drug (meaning it is capable of endangering people besides users), and Narcan is being touted as a potential lifesaver

Fatal fentanyl overdoses have reportedly soared since the covid-19 pandemic began. And Narcan distribution has followed suit.

With all these reports emerging, it’s important to understand the language people are using. For example, Narcan is actually a brand name – the generic name for the drug is naloxone.

You may have seen the I Narcanned Your Honor Student meme re-emerge in recent days and weeks, on car bumper stickers or elsewhere – here, we’ll explore its meaning and provide some of the social context around the meme’s rise.

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What do ‘Narcan’ and ‘Narcanned’ mean?

Narcan is a brand name – the generic drug it describes is naloxone. If you treat it as a verb – to Narcan (as in, to administer it) – then the meaning of “Narcanned’ becomes clear. It is the past participle of the verb.

Naloxone is a medicine that reverses an opioid overdose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse calls it an “opioid antagonist”.

This means Narcan attaches to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. It can restore normal breathing but has no effect on someone who doesn’t have opioids in their system.

Opioids include heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and… fentanyl.

Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Why is the word ‘naloxone’ entering the vernacular all of a sudden?

The reason the generic name naloxone and brand name Narcan are entering the national lexicon is fentanyl overdose rates are increasing. Fentanyl is an opioid, the effects of which Narcan (or naxolone) can counter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl are “on the rise”.

Rates of overdose deaths involving “synthetic opioids” increased more than 56 per cent from 2019 to 2020; provisional death counts for 2021 “suggest an acceleration” of overdose deaths during the covid-19 pandemic.

So it’s for this reason the distribution of Narcan, one of the more well-known trade names for naloxone, is increasing in various states – including Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Nicola Sturgeon Make Announcement On Use Of Drug Naxolone By Firefighters
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The birth of a meme

One of the ways of administering Narcan is via the nose. A slang term for receiving a dose of Narcan – which, curiously, doesn’t have a specific Urban Dictionary entry of its own yet – is being “Narcanned”.

(There is an entry on the word “narcan”. There’s another on “Narcan frequent flyer”: someone who frequently receives Narcan.)

The I Narcanned Your Honor Student joke/meme has been around since at least August 2015. See an example below, via FireFighter Problems’ Twitter account:

It has come up on the social media platform several times since. Several users have tweeted about seeing car bumper stickers bearing the phrase I Narcanned Your Honor Student:

I Narcanned Your Honor Student meme meaning explored

If someone has affixed a sticker to their car bumper joking that they “Narcanned” your honor student, one interpretation is they are highlighting the stigma of individuals suffering from heroin (or another opioid) addiction. 

That’s the take of EMS Podcast, anyway. According to this interpretation, the meme sheds light on the fact it’s not only people who miss out on high grades that succumb to opioid addiction, or who are at risk of overdosing. Everyone is susceptible. No one is impervious to the risks opioids present.

Paradise Highway | Official Trailer

Paradise Highway | Official Trailer

One Reddit user, commenting in a forum on the topic, writes that sometimes, socioeconomically privileged parents who are “blinded by ego” can think that, because their child is an “honors student”, they “can do no wrong”. 

“In reality,” they continue, “addiction, overdose, and death is the great equaliser.” They can affect anyone. “To me, this is a commentary on the perceived disconnect between academically inclined social climbers and the less fortunate in society.”

Another says the meme is “in poor taste”. One Twitter user, meanwhile, notes it’s not immediately clear whether it’s a “flex” or a “legitimate attempt to spread awareness”.

If you’ve been affected by this story you can contact American Addiction Centers on (877) 686-7688 or Talk To Frank on 0300 123 6600 in the UK.

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