Antidote for heroin overdose sees huge price spike

Mackenzie Bean - Print  | 

The price of a life-saving drug that can reverse an opioid overdose is rising dramatically, just as healthcare officials push to make the drug more available in clinics, homes and schools.

Naloxone, which counteracts overdoses of prescribed opioids and street heroin, has been on the market since 1971. In the past two years, prices for some versions of the drug have increased up to 17-fold. Five versions of naloxone are now on the market. The price change has resulted in some emergency response departments to run out and not restore supply of the antidote, while many public health groups must rely on donations to buy the drug.

Drug companies blame the price increases on manufacturing and packing costs, wholesalers and insurance company policies. While new generic and branded competitions have entered the market, they've had little impact on price.

The naloxone shortages bring two public health crises to a head — the politically charged debate over high drug prices and the growing concern over lethal addiction.

The new higher costs for a well-established drug like naloxone leaves both Democrats and Republicans angered. The White House addressed the issue, stepping in to help state and local governments combine their purchasing power to secure better discounts for the drug.

However, complaints over the rising drug cost have not dropped off.

The House passed 18 bills last week to tackle this opioid epidemic and the package will now go to conference with a senate package passed in March. The package focuses on access to naloxon rather than price. With no new federal money attached to the bills, it's unclear how many opioid and heroin patients the antidote will reach or when.

In 2014, more than 28,000 people died from opioid and heroin overdoses, more than any year on record, according to the CDC.

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