What does it cost to save a life? Today, advocacy groups, medical professionals, and even government leaders are asking this question of the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture forms of the life-saving drug naloxone. Used as an injectable (brand name Evzio), or as a nasal spray (marketed under the name Narcan), naloxone is the life-saving antidote to opioid overdoses.
As the number of opioid-related deaths is on the rise, both from prescription painkillers and heroin, so is demand for naloxone. In response to its efficacy, new laws have made it easier for both medical professionals and third parties to access the drug. Such efforts should be removing hurdles to life-saving actions, but instead, the demand for naloxone has led its pharmaceutical manufacturers to escalate its costs. As a result, for some, its access is becoming financially burdensome, or even prohibitive. Now, advocates are begging pharmaceutical companies to explain the true reasons for the rising costs of a drug that can help save lives.
The State of the Opioid Crisis
In an article by The Los Angeles Times, it’s estimated that there are over 130 overdose deaths in American every day. In 2014, nearly 60 percent of the 47,000 drug overdose deaths that occurred in America, were associated with opioids. There were more overdose deaths that year than during any year preceding on record.
Since the early 90s, opioid related addictions, and associated deaths, have been steadily on the rise, even though there has been no proven increase in the general amount of severe pain experienced by Americans, as studied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Naloxone works by blocking the effect that opioids have in the brain when an overdose takes place. The drug helps to reverse the slowed breathing and the state of unconsciousness caused by an overdose that can lead to death.
The Rising Costs of Naloxone
It wasn’t long ago when a generic form of naloxone cost just over $1.00 per dose. Today, the lowest available cost is nearly 20 times that amount. A popular injectable version of the drug has increased its costs from $0.92 per dose to more than $15 per dose over the last ten years. An auto-injector version is up to more than $2,000 a dose.
The Rules of Supply and Demand
Pharmaceutical companies are quick to point to the rising demand for Narcan and Evzio as the reasons for the cost hike. Several legislative changes have occurred over the past year, as a result of naloxone’s success in saving lives, that are making it easier to access the drug, thus increasing demand in the marketplace.
For example, some starts have implemented initiatives that improve access to naloxone for individuals outside the medical community. Previously, it was illegal for physicians to prescribe naloxone to family members or friends of patients. However, treatment professionals are now encouraging loved ones to have naloxone on hand to save the life of their addicted family member or friend, and new legislation is allowing this practice to take place. Laws in the majority of states also grant criminal or civil immunity to bystanders who possess or use illegal drugs when they provide emergency services to someone who has overdosed, which includes administering naloxone.
In addition, in the majority of states, individuals without a prescription to obtain naloxone are now able to obtain the drug at pharmacies through physicians’ standing orders, collaborative practice agreements, or pharmacists’ prescriptive authority.
Community initiatives are also expanding the demand for the drug. A growing number of community organizations are providing naloxone kits and education programs to non-medical professionals. States and partnering agencies are similarly expanding access for emergency medical services (EMS) providers.
Pharmaceutical companies argue that the price hike is also exacerbated by the recommendation of advocacy groups that victims be given multiple doses of the drug to counter the longer-lasting effects of opioids.
The Cost of Saving Lives
According to a survey of 136 advocacy organizations, pharmacies, public health departments, and substance use treatment facilities, more than 26,000 overdoses were prevented from 1996 to June 2014 thanks to naloxone. As advocates continue to offer education and preventive initiatives to mitigate opioid addiction, it is expected that naloxone will continue to been seen and utilized as an effective life-saving treatment, no matter the price tag.
Opiate Overdose Prevention Training at Horizon Health Services
Horizon offers free naloxone kits and training to families and individuals impacted by the opioid epidemic in our WNY community. For more information, visit our Opiate Overdose Prevention page on our website or call us at (716) 831-1800.