Big Pharma Hikes Naloxone Price As Antidote's Availability Grows

By May Wilkerson 06/02/16

Prices of some versions of naloxone have increased by as much as 17-fold in the past two years, drawing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

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Big Pharma Hikes Naloxone Price As Antidote's Availability Grows

As of April 2016, all but five U.S. states had passed laws expanding naloxone access. With each passing month, the lifesaving drug—designed to reverse an opioid overdose—is being made available in pharmacies in a growing number of states, including CVS and Walgreens. But even though naloxone is being used to save lives in the fight against opioid overdoses, its prices continue to skyrocket.

According to a recent report by Politico, the prices of some versions of naloxone—which has been around since 1971—have increased by as much as 17-fold in the past two years, causing some emergency room departments to run low on the drug and forcing public health organizations to rely on donations since they cannot afford it. This is happening as the Obama administration is pushing to make naloxone more available across the country.

As a result of the nationwide opioid crisis, outpatient use of naloxone has increased by 72% in the last five years, according to the FDA. The White House has been pushing for discounted prices for the drug, and public officials are trying to make it more widely available in clinics, schools and homes. But ultimately, most blame the pharmaceutical companies for price-gouging the lifesaving drug. "You have increased demand and a few people who control the pricing, so they can charge whatever they want," said Eliza Wheeler of the Harm Reduction Coalition in Northern California.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings launched an investigation into Amphastar Pharmaceuticals—which cornered the market with its Narcan nasal spray, the preferred method of administration in overdose situations—for continuing to double the price of the drug. “Opioid abuse is an epidemic across our country, yet drug companies continue to rip off the American people by charging the highest prices in the world because they have no shame,” said Sanders in May. “The greed of the pharmaceutical industry is killing Americans.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from painkiller and heroin overdoses exceeded 28,000 in 2014—more than any year on record.

Notorious Internet persona non grata, Martin Shkreli, drew wide criticism last year when his company Turing Pharmaceuticals hiked the price of an AIDS medication by 5,000%. But as The Fix noted earlier this year, Turing is far from the only company to engage in this kind of price-gouging. The naloxone problem exemplifies this. There are now five versions of the drug on the market, but the price keeps increasing.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen, who has pushed for wider availability of naloxone called the pharma companies’ price hikes “not conscionable.” She told Politico: “We have not been able to understand what is motivating them except for profit.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/ @alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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