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More heroin deaths expected as price soars for overdose antidote nasal naloxone
Emergency responders such as police, ambulance and ER personnel, and the city, state and county administrators that pay their bills, aren’t happy with a recent price jump for nasal naloxone – the widely-used, life-saving drug that can reverse an opioid overdose in a matter of seconds.
Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the only U.S. maker of naloxone in convenient single-dose nasal delivery cartridges, has suddenly more than doubled the wholesale price, averaging $13 to $15 per cartridge to as high as $30 to $35.
The company is now impressing Wall Street, according to the financial news, and its shareholders are delighted with the company‘s rising stock values. But the price hikes are causing a big problem for the legions of emergency personnel from coast to coast who depend on nasal naloxone to save lives.
State, county and city health departments are traditionally under-budgeted. But with the recent recession and unemployment rates these past few years, the squeeze has gotten worse than ever. And the price increases are making it especially difficult for the many non-profits across the country that provide nasal naloxone kits to addicts and their families. These street-level, store-front groups are under even tighter financial constraints these days, and they’re on the front lines helping saving lives every day too.
New York’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman wrote a 2-page letter to the Amphastar’s CEO demanding an explanation for what he called the “unacceptable” rise in prices.
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum that has urged putting naloxone into every police officers’ hands, told the New York Times that because it’s not an incremental increase, there’s “clearly something going on.”
And Dr. Phillip O. Coffin, director of substance abuse research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, told the Times that the price hikes “will decrease access” to naloxone.
Naloxone has been around since back in the 1960s and has been a useful but little-known player in the ER. That’s where most overdose victims – the ones who are lucky enough to arrive alive – get another chance at life and hopefully, a new decision to get clean, all thanks to naloxone.
In more recent years, naloxone has been made available in many constituencies to all emergency responders, usually financed by state and local health care and law enforcement budgets. Naloxone kits are also offered to the general public, such as heroin and painkiller addicts and their friends and families, in some places even without a prescription.
In 2011, says the CDC, there were 16,917 prescription opioid deaths and 4,397 heroin overdose deaths – over 20,000 in all. This colossal annual death rate, which dwarfs every kind and type of epidemic since the world-wide 1917 influenza pandemic , will only increase until more funding, not less, is made available for safe and effective opioid medical detox and long-term treatment facilities.
Most heroin and opioid overdose victims who are pulled back from death’s door by the use of a nasal or injected dose of naloxone turn right around and go back to their dangerous habits. After all, they’re addicts, right? And naloxone is only emergency medicine, not heroin detox, not rehab, not addiction treatment by any stretch.
But once you’ve saved a life with naloxone, the seriousness, the impact of that event isn’t lost on the just-saved addict. It should open the door to at least a new discussion, if not a focused intervention, that might lead to treatment and recovery.
Saving a life, any life, is not just worthwhile but essential. And naloxone provides that opportunity hundreds of times a day across America. It seems ethically wrong on every level to deny anyone another chance at life when it is so easily, quickly and inexpensively possible.
Only time will tell if the soaring naloxone prices result in killing more Americans because of a board-room decision to make a killing on the stock market.
If you or someone you care for suffers from an opioid dependence or addiction, please call Novus right away. We’re here to help, and will try to answer all your questions about opioid detox and essential long-term treatment.
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