ABC 57 Investigates: Rising price of a rescue drug
Michiana lawmakers, health officials and first responders fear a price surge in naloxone could make it hard for local people to get access to the medicine.
Naloxone is an overdose reversing medicine. With the heroin epidemic taking a toll in communities across the country it is more in demand than ever.
Sam Callantine has given out around 300 free naloxone kits to the Elkhart County community since May through his non-profit Gweedo’s Purple Shamrocks. With every kit, another local person is trained to save the life of someone struggling with drug addiction.
“I lost my brother to an overdose in May 2016. When he passed away I was completely unaware of the span of the epidemic and how bad it is in our community,” said Callantine.
From brand names like Narcan to the generic versions of naloxone, all across the board – prices of the medicine are climbing.
In 2014, a twin pack of Evzio was $690. Skyrocketing to more than six times the price, it now costs $4,500.
“Whereas $50,000 would have brought us 1,000 kits before, now it’s only going to get us 500 kits. So that’s less lifesaving medicine that we can get into the public, those who will save lives, paramedics and law enforcement,” said Callantine.
Just like a badge and a police radio, naloxone is now a required piece of gear for Elkhart County Sheriff’s deputies.
“We definitely see the value in this. We’ve had 6 deployments. It’s necessary. No one wants to feel hopeless. They can’t just sit there and watch someone die. If you have a tool you think you can use to help them, that’s something you definitely want in your tool belt,” said Captain Michael Culp.
Capt. Culp says price increases have not affected their access.
The health care provider who supplies the medicine to the department says they don’t foresee any complications in the department’s ability to obtain the drug in the future.
“While we are not able address specifically how we would manage an increase in cost, we can say definitively that we are extremely proud of the program and the positive impact that it is having on the community. This is a significant initiative and we are committed to keeping it in place and moving forward,” said Jim Cheney with Correct Care Solutions.
But many saves are made by everyday people.
According to the CDC, 26,463 overdose reversals from 1996 to 2014 were made by citizens who were trained and provided free kits through non-profit organizations.
Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Dan Nafziger predicts climbing costs will be make things more challenging for non-profits to fund their free programs.
“It’s kind of frustrating to me because it’s not like they’ve done new research or development or new investments in the medication. From the prescribers perspective it just looks like price gauge.
It makes it hard. I don’t think we’re going to see the same availability of the drug moving forward. There’s only so much resource that can be put in to various programs,” said Dr. Nafziger.
With more companies who will want to get in on selling the high priced drug, Dr. Nafziger predicts the competition between them will eventually lower the cost.
“But that may still leave people who are not rescued in the meantime until that supply increases,” said Dr. Nafziger.
In the meantime, he is working to get state funding to help supply Gweedo’s Purple Shamrock.
Elkhart’s need for affordable naloxone extends across Michiana and in communities across the country.
This week a group of over thirty senators penned a letter to the CEO of kaléo, the company who makes Evzio, pressing them for answers into the price hike.
Writing in part, “At a time when Congress has worked to expand access to naloxone products and to assist state and local communities to equip first responders with this life-saving drug, this startling price hike appears to be beyond exploitative.”
Kaléo provided us with the following statement:
“We received the letter from the Senators and are in communication with them to ensure all questions are addressed. Our first priority remains ensuring that patients can access EVZIO. In fact, with the launch of kaléo’s enhanced patient access program, more Americans are able to obtain this life-saving product for $0 out-of-pocket than any time in history…Our goal at kaléo is to ensure the broadest access possible to this potentially life-saving medication.”