As opioid overdose deaths continue to rise, naloxone price gouging is preventing people from purchasing this life-saving drug.
In the midst of America’s opioid crisis, naloxone offers hope to countless families who live in fear that an opioid-abusing loved one will die of an overdose. Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids to bring overdose victims back from the brink of death, is now widely available to the general public. But thanks to naloxone price gouging, the price of the drug puts it out of reach for many people who need it, and even local governments are struggling to keep their naloxone reserves full enough to treat a growing number of overdose victims.
Opioid Overdose Deaths Are on the Rise–and So Is the Price of Naloxone
Opioid overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2015, nearly 30,000 people lost their lives to an opioid overdose, and that number rose by several thousand in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Around 91 people die of an opioid overdose every single day.
But while naloxone can reverse an overdose, drug companies have used the opioid crisis as a way to bolster profits by exploiting the high demand of the drug and engaging in naloxone price gouging.
Amphastar Pharmaceuticals increased the price of naloxone from $20.34 to $39.60, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Adapt Pharma’s Narcan nasal spray arrived on the market in 2015 with a wholesale price tag of a whopping $150 per dose. But the award for the most outrageous example of naloxone price gouging goes to the drug manufacturer kaleo, which instituted a naloxone price increase of their two-dose auto-injector Evzio from $690 in 2014 to $4,500 in 2016–an increase of 500 percent.
What the Administration is Doing
Sales of naloxone increased from $21.3 million in 2011 to $274 million in 2016. State and local governments who have made the purchase and distribution of naloxone a major priority are feeling the squeeze. The primary purchasers of naloxone, governments are being forced to limit the doses they have on hand due to the naloxone price increase, and this impedes their ability to save lives.
President Trump is one person who has the power to address the unconscionable price gouging of naloxone and ensure that states and cities can afford to stock it in the quantities they need. But it’s become apparent that he has no interest in doing so. In fact, in October, 2017, as experts, advocates, and many senators expected the president to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, he instead declared it a public health emergency, which is far less impactful. And rather than taking steps to allow the government to directly negotiate a lower price of naloxone with pharmaceutical companies, he took no action at all.
Big Pharma Defends its Naloxone Price Gouging Practices
Naloxone is currently manufactured by six drug companies. In response to an inquiry by The Nation concerning naloxone price gouging, several companies responded by pointing out that many factors go into setting the price for a particular drug. The drug company kaleo pointed out that its auto-injector has no co-pay for people with certain insurance and that to date, they have donated more than 250,000 devices to advocacy groups, first responders and public health departments. The large drug manufacturer Pfizer noted that the list price of their version of naloxone doesn’t reflect considerable discounts they offer to people and organizations. The drug company Adapt claimed to be doing its best to get Narcan to those who need it, including by offering discounts to governments and non-profits.
In 2016, Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the increase in market competition was expected to bring down the price of naloxone and increase the distribution of the drug. But that hasn’t happened. And in fact, Adapt has petitioned the FDA to take steps that would make it even more difficult for new naloxone formulations to get agency approval. Thankfully, the FDA rejected the move, but some experts are concerned that their attempt to stifle competition won’t be the last.
The high cost of naloxone products is ultimately passed on to consumers, who end up paying higher insurance premiums and deductibles. If the prices of these drugs continue to rise, overdose deaths will continue to proliferate, and local governments and nonprofits will continue to struggle to keep these products on hand to treat overdose victims.
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