NJ officials alarmed at rising prices of life-saving heroin antidote
Police departments, EMTs, hospital emergency rooms and private citizens in New Jersey now have access to naloxone, the heroin antidote drug commonly referred to as Narcan, which is used to revive overdose victims.
But there is growing concern about rapidly rising prices for it — even as pharmaceutical companies offer discounts and free doses to people who can't afford it.
Paul Ressler, president and CEO of The Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation, TOPAC, a New Jersey-based group that trains people on how to administer naloxone, said price increases of 100 percent or more over the past few years are very concerning.
“Capitalism in America has happened in this industry, and the demand is so high and the epidemic is so huge,” he said.
Ressler said doses of naloxone that are injected with a hypodermic needle originally cost $12, but they have gone up to between $30 and $40. The least expensive nasal spray available without a prescription now costs around $40, but the cost was $10 to $20 when it was first introduced.
The easiest nasal spray to use is made by Adapt Pharma and costs about $160 for two doses. The price has not increased since it went on the market last year.
Ressler said the Evzio kit, which is an auto-injector pen-type device and the easiest way to administer naloxone, has increased in price from $500 to $3,750.
“That price is a disaster. The increase is huge,” he said.
Ressler said he’s been told Kaleo Pharma, which makes Evzio, increased the price so dramatically because of a deal they brokered with insurance companies.
"The idea is to make it accessible to people, and if you hear a price like 3,000 bucks, you just automatically think I can’t afford that.”
Mark Herzog, vice president of corporate affairs at Kaleo, said patients with any type of health insurance can get Evzio for no out-of-pocket cost. Uninsured patients with a household income of less than $100,000 also can get it for free.
"As a company founded by patients, we believe the most important price is the out-of-pocket price to patients," Herzog said. "Since enhancing our patient access model more than 12 months ago, more Americans can obtain naloxone for $0 today than at any time in history. No naloxone product, branded or even generic, is less expensive for commercially insured patients, or patients without insurance and incomes below $100,000 a year, than Evzio."
Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, said the big price increases for naloxone are disturbing.
“It’s very important to help those struggling with addiction to turn things around and give them a second chance,” he said.
“We finally get it available to the general public, and if the cost puts it out of their range, then that’s a sad, sad state. Hopefully someone has leverage to negotiate with these companies and turn that around.”
Ressler said with prices so high even for the cheapest type of naloxone, “you may not get the kit, you scare people away, for a lot of people, walking in and paying $40, it’s a lot of money for people .”
A December 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine noted “naloxone’s price increase is part of an overall trend of increasing prescription-drug prices for both new brand-name drugs and old, off-patent generics. Public frustration with rising drug prices has led to a number of recent policy proposals.”
The article went on to say price policies that could be enacted “should explicitly call on manufacturers to reduce the price of naloxone and increase transparency regarding their costs, particularly those related to the development of new formulations.”
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.