WNPR

Rising Price of a Life-Saving Drug Complicates Efforts to Combat Heroin

Dec 8, 2016

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 said some of those price hikes have been dramatic.

"There [are] a couple of different manufacturers," Gupta said. "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 another formulation of the drug, delivered via autoinjector, rose in cost from $690 in 2014 to $4,500 this year.

In a statement, Hospira's parent company, Pfizer, said cost increases are needed to offset research and increased manufacturing costs. They said 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 said 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," Gupta said. "The second challenge with those types of programs is that the cost is put back onto the patient anyway through increasing insurance premiums."

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.

Meanwhile, while more pharmacists in Connecticut are getting certified to prescribe naloxone, demand for the drug has varied.

According to Gupta, "the overall number of prescriptions has perhaps not gone up as much as  we might have expected."  But in the outpatient setting, he said the number of prescriptions has gone up nationwide at places like the doctor's office, or through the purchase of naloxone for EMS providers or first responders. 

WNPR's Opioid Addiction Crisis Reporting Initiative is supported by Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network's MATCH Program.