As opioid epidemic worsens, price of opioid antidote skyrockets

FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Every day, 91 Americans die from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an effort to save lives, health officials often turn to a drug called naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses.

As the nation’s opioid epidemic intensifies, so does the demand for naloxone. And pharmaceutical companies are taking advantage of the situation.

“We see the opioid addictions going up, deaths going up, and somehow the price goes up and that’s wrong,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Naloxone was first approved by the FDA in 1971, and in recent years, prices have increased. In 2014, two doses of an injectable type of naloxone, Evzio, was $690. In 2016, it cost $4,500, a 500% increase in two years, according to a report in the New England School of Medicine.

“Naloxone is critical to saving lives, so that price should be going down and the federal government should be negotiating the best price,” Sen. Stabenow said.

In March 2017, President Donald Trump created the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The Commission released a final report last month with over 50 recommendations for the administration to curb the opioid epidemic.

One of the commission's key recommendations called on the federal and local governments to negotiate lower prices of naloxone in order for every law enforcement officer and first responder to have access to the medicine.

“I think ultimately the federal government will get involved and will bring those prices down,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Commission Chairman and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appeared before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Baltimore, Maryland where he discussed the findings of the report and how to combat the crisis.

“The government should band together to use its purchasing power to make bulk purchase of naloxone at lower prices,” Christie said “We do this in other areas through bulk purchasing. There’s no way we shouldn’t be able to do this with naloxone.”

Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and House Democrats agree.

"Drug companies have continued to hike the price of this 45-year-old drug and communities have been forced to ration it,” Cummings said. “The president should act now to make sure naloxone is available at a reasonable price wherever and whenever it is needed.”

In October, Trump declared the opioid epidemic a National Public Health Emergency, but not a national emergency, stopping short of using money from disasters like hurricanes and wildfires for opioids.

The Commission also urged the president to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency to "empower the HHS Secretary to negotiate reduced pricing for all governmental units" for naloxone.

Lawmakers are also calling for more funding to ensure the administration has the resources to carry out the Commission’s recommendations after Christie acknowledged there is only $66,000 in the national public health emergency fund.

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