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Rising Price Of Overdose Antidote Complicates Efforts To Combat Heroin

Cassandra Basler
Narcan, or naloxone, can reverse heroin and opioid overdoses. Above left is an injector cartridge that is deployed in the thigh. To its right is Narcan Nasal Spray that is administered intranasally.

Naloxone is a lifesaving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Efforts have been made in the current opioid epidemic to make it more widely available, but the medication's rising price is complicating that.

Naloxone has been around since the 1970s – but in recent years, certain formulations of the drug have gotten more expensive. Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, Yale medical student Ravi Gupta says, in recent years, some of those price hikes have been dramatic.

“There's a couple of different manufacturers. The one supplier, Hospira, that has a larger share of the market – the price that they have for their drug has more than doubled.”

Prices range from around $20 to $150 for naloxone. But one formulation of the drug -- delivered via auto-injector -- rose in cost from $690 in 2014 to $4,500 this year.

In a statement, Hospira's parent company, Pfizer, says cost increases are needed to offset research and increased manufacturing costs. They say many naloxone doses are donated for free. And in many states, there are programs where naloxone prices are reduced via rebates and coupons. But Gupta says those patient assistance programs aren't particularly sustainable.

“Because the list price is still quite high and we're not sure how long that patient assistance program will last and how many patients can actually access that. And the second challenge with those types of programs is that a lot of the cost is put back onto the patient anyway through increasing insurance premiums,” Gupta says.

In April, the state of Connecticut announced an agreement to provide a rebate to municipalities for certain doses of naloxone. It also received a donation of 500 auto-injectors – for use by the state and community programs.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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