Drug Companies Price-Gouge the Most Vulnerable — Again

Some drug companies who manufacture and distribute naloxone, often the antidote to opioid overdoses, have been taking advantage of the principles of supply-and-demand created by the epidemic of opioid addiction, raising their prices of the life-saving medication.

Naloxone was first approved for use in the United States in 1971 as the injectable drug, Narcan. When used correctly, naloxone immediately reverses an opioid overdose or intoxication, including prescription opioid pain medications and heroin. Generic versions of naloxone have been available since 1985 and in 2013, 80 percent of the uses of the opioid antidote were for heroin overdoses.

Kaleo, a small, privately-held pharmaceutical company located in Virginia that was founded by twin brothers, Eric and Evan Edwards, first developed an auto-injector to compete with EpiPen. The two then took that auto-injector concept and applied it to naloxone. Kaleo’s naloxone auto-injector is unique among the delivery systems for the opioid antidote, naloxone.

Kaleo’s naloxone auto-injector, Evzio, is also a talking device that takes the medication user through the correct steps of using the antidote, increasing the likelihood that a non-medically trained person will give the antidote correctly to reverse the opioid overdose in what is likely to be an emotionally fraught situation.

When Evzio was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014, the price for a twin-pack of the auto-injector was $690; in 2016 the price was $4,500.

Another pharmaceutical company, Hospira, who manufactures the vast majority of the naloxone 0.4-mg-per-milliter-dose injections, has raised the price of a 10 ml vial of naloxone from $62.29 in 2012 to $142.49 in 2016. Amphastar, the only pharmaceutical company currently providing naloxone in a 1.0-mg-per-milliliter-dose, raised it prices of a 2 ml vial that can be used either as a nasal spray or injected from $20.39 in 2009 to $39.60 in 2016.

Although there are a number of pharmaceutical companies eligible to manufacture naloxone, only a handful of them are doing so. This decreases the opportunity for competitive pricing between the companies while the need for naloxone has been increasing annually in the United States for the last several years. As public health officials have been advocating for greater public access to the opioid antidote, the increase that antidote’s prices, along with the stigma that is still associated with drug addiction, are working together to prevent the most vulnerable individuals in the national epidemic that is drug addiction from having access to the life-saving medication.

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