Anti-opioid overdose drug price up 1,500 percent in past decade

With the number of opioid-related overdose deaths on the rise in America over the past two decades, concern from both the charitable health community and federal government officials is starting to be expressed about the even faster increase in price of the overdose reversal drug naloxone.

Available to the public since 1971, the opioid antagonist’s direct purchase costs from pharmaceutical companies has risen by as much as 1,530 percent in the last 10 years, with prices of up to $2,000 per dose for one brand which sold for only $287 in July 2014.

To-date, 136 community-based organizations, pharmacies, public health departments and drug treatment centers have used naloxone to prevent over 26,000 overdoses between 1996 and June 2014.  The prescription drug acts by blocking opioids from attaching to neurotransmitters in the brain, which can slow breathing and cause loss of consciousness.

In June, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) sent a letter to the five pharmaceutical companies who produce brand name versions of the anti-overdose drug, inquiring about the dramatic price increases which have caused sales to nearly quadruple from $21.3 million in 2011 to $81.9 million in 2015.

Although only two companies continue to manufacture the drug in 2016, executive director of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, Dan Bigg, points out that it is not “a limited commodity. Naloxone is a medicine that is almost as cheap as sterile sodium chloride — salt water.”

However, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report in 2015 confirms that generic injectable prescription drug prices are increasing across-the-board in the U.S., due to what some pharmaceutical companies claim to be higher manufacturing costs.

The meteoric rise in costs, however, have stifled the efforts of some smaller community health organizations to distribute the drug in rural areas where incidents of prescription pain killer and heroin abuse are relatively high and has grown in recent years in states such as New Hampshire, Ohio, Alabama, North Dakota and New Mexico.

However, larger health charities, government agencies and high schools have benefited from public money and pharmaceutical company programs that fund and distribute the drug. Some states have even made laws requiring law enforcement personnel and first aid responders to carry naloxone on their person.

Two companies, Kaléo Inc. and Adapt Pharma Inc., have initiated programs that provide up to a 100 percent discount for the drug to patients who lack health insurance.

In addition, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 on July 22, which increases funding to make naloxone even more widely available.

“The bill addresses the end-stage of opioid misuse,” said Dr. Beth Darnall, professor at Stanford University’s Division of Pain Medicine. “To fully reduce opioid over-prescribing it is critical to develop strategies that provide early treatment and preventative strategies focused on the main reason opioids are prescribed: pain.”

In 2014, there were a combined 29,467 heroin and prescription pain killer overdose deaths in the U.S., a 372 percent increase since 2000.


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