Overdose Drug's 1000% Price Hike Sparks Outrage

By Maia Szalavitz 04/11/13

Advocates for naloxone push the FDA to make the life-saving drug more affordable.

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Naloxone has cut OD deaths in half. photo

The price of naloxone—a nontoxic, nonaddictive drug that can instantly reverse heroin and opioid painkiller overdoses—has jumped by $1,100 since 2008, because of a move by Hospira, the drug's sole manufacturer, to raise its bottom line. "Hospira [says it] wanted to increase their average [overall] customer bill by 3% to 4%. Instead of raising all their prices and risk losing customers to the competition, they chose one item for a price increase so high as to cause the average bill to go up 3% to 4%,” Dan Bigg, the founder of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, tells Alternet. “That product was naloxone." Hospira is currently estimated to make a tidy $20 million annually from the drug. Because naloxone is injectable it is expensive to produce, so generic firms have avoided the risk, leaving Hospira with a monopoly.

While Bigg was able to negotiate a discount for his group—the first program to distribute naloxone to drug users and their families—some smaller distribution programs have simply folded, cutting the total number nationwide by 10% in the last two years. So those who might save overdose victims are left unable to access a medication that research indicates can reduce those deaths by as much as half, if widely distributed. In response to a push to make the drug—which is harmless even if given in error—easily accessible to consumers without a prescription, the FDA held a meeting in April 2012 to consider making it available over the counter. Yet 12 months later, the FDA has taken no action. Now, pressure on the agency is set to increase as advocates and healthcare professionals campaign for it to issue an emergency order to allow importation of affordable naloxone. Drug overdoses are currently the leading cause of accidental death in the US, and opioid ODs account for about 80% of that toll.

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Maia Szalavitz is an author and journalist working at the intersection of brain, culture and behavior.  She has reported for Time magazine online, and is the co-author, with Bruce Perry, of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered, and author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids. You can find her on Linkedin and  Twitter.

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