As the opioid crisis continues to escalate, the demand for life-saving opioid overdose antidotes like naloxone is higher than ever. But despite its status as a generic, the manufacturers of naloxone have increased the price of the medication in recent years, prompting 50 congressional members to encourage President Donald Trump to push drugmakers to lower the drug’s cost.
The letter was sent to President Trump on Tuesday and asked him to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency – a process he began last month but has yet to put into action. According to the members of congress, the declaration would give Tom Price, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the power to negotiate a lower price for naloxone.
“We are writing to strongly urge you to follow the new recommendations of your own Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis not only by declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency—which it clearly is—but also by immediately negotiating lower prices to get the lifesaving drug naloxone into the hands of law enforcement and first responders across the country,” the Members wrote in the letter.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription opioid overdose deaths quadrupled between 1999 and 2015. Every day, over 1,000 individuals visit the ER due to opioid misuse, and President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis say that nearly 150 people die as a result of opioid overdose on a daily basis.
Naloxone was originally approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a reversal agent for opioid overdose in 1971, when it was primarily used to treat heroin overdoses. The drug went off-patent in 1985, however drugmakers like Amphastar Pharmaceuticals and Kaleo pharma have released new formulations which have consistently gone up in price.
For example, Hospira’s injectable naloxone was priced at $63 in 2012; by 2016, the cost had been increased to $142. Kaleo, another manufacturer of the antidote, has hiked the price of their injectable two-pack by over 500 percent to $4,500 over the past three years.
“The price of this drug—which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1971—has skyrocketed in recent years,” the Members wrote. “Although state and local purchasers have been able to secure some discounts for naloxone, high prices are forcing these entities to severely ration their supplies.”
A recent article published in the journal Medical Care estimates that the total economic burden of the opioid crisis reached $78.5 billion in 2013. Considering that opioid overdoses are still on this rise, this number is likely to be even higher today.