Tag Archives: narcan

Up, Up with Prices

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

If the past decade has taught us anything about pharmaceutical products, it’s that necessity is the mother of price gouging. Whenever a health crisis arises, pharmaceutical companies are quick to respond with an abundance of products at exorbitant prices. Such is the case with Kaléo, the manufacturer of an injectable form of naloxone – the lifesaving medication that can reverse opioid and heroin overdoses – Evzio.

The price Kaléo’s unique auto-injecting naloxone twin pack of Evzio has increased 552.17% from $690 in 2014, to $4,500 in 2017 (Baldrige, 2017). This vast increase is not the only one of its kind: all five pharmaceutical companies that produce naloxone products – Amphastar, Pfizer, Adapt, Kaléo, and Mylan – have increased the cost of their versions of the drug, prompting Senators Clair McCaskill (D-MO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to pose the following question to those companies:

“At the same time this epidemic is killing tens of thousands of Americans a year, we’re seeing the price of naloxone go up by 1000% or more. Maybe there’s a great reason for the price increases, but given the heart-breaking gravity of this epidemic and the need for this drug, I think we have to demand some answers (Jacobs, 2016).”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., listens on Jan. 23 as Maine Sen. Susan Collins discusses her Affordable Care Act replacement plan.

Photo Source:J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Naloxone, in and of itself, is neither expensive to manufacture, nor is it difficult to produce. Injectable versions of the drug that require hand-operated syringes cost between $20.40 and $39.60, respective to milligrams-per-milliliter and size of the vial; but even those costs have risen substantially over the past decade (Gupta, 2016).

Much like Mylan did with Epi-Pen, the epinephrine shot that counteracts allergic reactions, what Kaléo uses to justify its price increases has more to do with the delivery method, rather than the drug itself. Evzio is unique in that it utilizes both an auto-injector mechanism, and “intelligent voice guidance,” which Kaléo describes as “Simple, on-the-spot voice and visual guidance [that] helps caregivers take fast, confident action administering naloxone during an opioid emergency and reminds the user to call 911” (Kaléo, n.d.). While this product is unique in these features, certainly the cost of the auto-injector mechanism and an audio device that can be found in greeting cards do not justify a price of $2,250 per dose.

While furor over this price increase has yet to gather full steam, health departments in northern Kentucky and in Cincinnati, Ohio have avoided the sticker shock by abandoning Evzio, altogether, by switching from Kaléo’s product to Adapt Pharma’s Narcan nasal spray, which has a Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC) of $125 per carton for two doses (DeMio & Luthra, 2017). Both Ohio and Kentucky, along with nearby Indiana, have experienced some of the highest rates of opioid and heroin abuse in the U.S., making naloxone a relatively basic necessity for every branch of emergency services, as well as schools and businesses. Adapt’s currently available dose is 4mg is designed for use in emergency situations; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved a 2mg dose of Narcan, which is designed for use in opioid-dependent patients expected to be at risk for severe opioid withdrawal in situations where there is a low risk for accidental or intentional opioid exposure by household contacts (Barrett, 2017).

It is understandable that pharmaceutical companies need to make a profit in order to continue making new products, it is both unacceptable, and unconscionable for manufacturers of lifesaving drugs to engage in intentional price gouging whenever the need for a readily available, easily produce medication is in need. Given the current uncertainty within both the healthcare and economic arenas, neither patients, nor states can or should stand for being caught up in predatory pricing practices.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Milk, Bread, Ground Beef, and Overdose Medication

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

The HEAL Blog has been following the issue of opioid addiction very closely, largely because Injection Drug Users (IDUs) represent a large proportion of new Hepatitis C (HCV) infections in the U.S., particularly in rural parts of the country. The Appalachian Mountain region serves as a prime example of how heroin and opioid addiction can lead to a rash of both HIV and HCV outbreaks; it also serves as excellent proving grounds for how Harm Reduction methods can help to prevent mass outbreaks, as well as save lives.

Harm Reductions measures are those that focus on preventive measures that have been shown to lessen the risk to individuals through various legal means. As they relate to opioid addiction, one of the most important measures is increased access to Naloxone, a medication that is used to block the effects of opioid drugs, such as slowed breathing and loss of consciousness. Naloxone – sold under the brand name, Narcan – is a nasal spray that is used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. It is currently listed on the World Health Organization’s “List of Essential Medicines,” the most important medications needed in a basic health system, and increasing ease of access without a prescription is something for which advocates have long fought.

Last week, in the city of Huntington, WV, 26 people overdosed on opioid drugs in a period of only four hours from a particularly potent batch of heroin. Of those 26 overdose cases, none of the patients died, as first responders and hospitals were quick to react, delivering a total of 12 doses of Naloxone, including the two used by Huntington police. One patient had to be revived using three doses (Struck, 2016). The remaining patients were revived using bag valve masks, a handheld device used to provide ventilation to patients who aren’t breathing. The users who overdosed ranged in age from 20 to 59, demonstrating that the opioid epidemic affects people of virtually every age range. In Cabell County, where Huntington is located, there were 440 overdoses by June of this year, 26 of which resulted in death; the state of West Virginia, itself, ranks highest in the number of overdose deaths in the U.S.

In Kentucky, the next state over and less than fifteen miles from Huntington, Kroger grocery store locations with pharmacies on site began offering Naloxone over the counter without a prescription at 96 locations, including 80 pharmacies in the Louisville Division (Warren, 2016). Kentucky currently ranks in the top five states for overdose deaths, which makes it an excellent test market for the efficacy of offering Naloxone without a prescription. That said, the Kroger locations in Ashland, KY – the city nearest Huntington, WV – does not yet offer the drug over the counter.

Naloxone rescue kit

Photo Source: Yourblogondrugs.com

When we discuss expanding Naloxone access, there are a number of ways that access can be broadened – (1.) Naloxone can be carried by first responders; (2.) Naloxone can be carried also by state employees (such as school officials); (3.) Naloxone can be sold without a prescription to anyone. WV does not currently allow the sale of Naloxone without a prescription, although WV HB 4035 seeks to do just that. Access to first responders, including police and other emergency personnel, was expanded beyond just Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in May of this year, but it is unclear, yet, whether or not HB 4035 will be ratified and made into law by the end of this year. In an election year, particularly in the latter half, little of substance seems to get done.

What is important, however, is that we continue to fight to expand access to this lifesaving drug. Politics and personal peccadillos aside, saving someone’s life should never fall prey to moralizing of whether or not opioid abuse is wrong, nor should saving a life be predicated upon whether or not one agrees with the lifestyle choices of the victim. When lives are at risk, every reasonable action should be taken to ensure that those lives are saved.

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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In Case of Overdose, Please Spray Naloxone

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

For the past two weeks, HEAL Blog has covered various issues related to Harm Reduction and opioid abuse, but not much attention has been given, on our part, to what happens when using injection drugs goes awry and results in an overdose. This is where two specific Harm Reduction methods – Good Samaritan laws and expanded access to the opioid antagonist, Naloxone – come into play.

Good Samaritan laws are ones that provide legal protection to people who provide reasonable assistance to people who are, or whom they believe to be, injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated. As it relates to drug overdoses, Good Samaritan laws allow bystanders, medical professionals, or anyone, really, to treat an overdose victim using reasonable methods – such as the application of Naloxone for opioid overdoses – without fear of being later prosecuted, should the person survive and decide, for whatever reason, to sue the person who performed the life saving measure.

Naloxone, itself, is referred to as an “opioid antagonist” – a drug medication that counteracts life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, allowing the overdose patient to breathe normally. It’s also a nonscheduled (i.e. – non-addictive) prescription medication (Harm Reduction Coalition, n.d.), meaning that there is no chance of becoming addicted to the drug. It can be delivered via injection into the muscle, vein, or under the skin, or, more commonly, by nasal spray. The latter application, under the product name “Narcan,” is the generally preferred method of treating overdose victims.

RESPOND to an OPIOID OVERDOSE! You can save a life! [Naloxone Kit]

Photo Source: Washington.edu

When discussing “expanding access to Naloxone,” we’re speaking of more than simply making it more readily available; we’re also discussing how it can be procured, not only by medical emergency personnel and authority figures, but by minimally trained people, which can include essentially anyone, from family members to neighbors to your local postal worker. In fact, CVS pharmacy locations have made Narcan available without a prescription (over the counter, essentially) in 22 states (Thurston, 2016), allowing virtually anyone to procure the overdose cure with minimal hassle, and minimal cost.

Cost is, of course, an issue that must be dealt with, whenever we speak of medical treatments. While Naloxone is relatively inexpensive – depending on the location, between $20-$40 a shot (and in some cases, $6/dose with rebates) – the increased and increasing demand for the drug has cause some drug manufacturers – Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, in particular – to increase their prices to meet the cost of production, raw materials, and labor. Amphastar makes the naloxone most widely used by health departments and police, and is currently the only manufacturer that makes naloxone in a dosage that can be administered nasally (All Things Considered, 2015).

Naloxone, however, is not a panacea, for all its potential live-saving benefits. While the increased availability of Naloxone does translate into more overdose victims being saved, it may not be able to keep up with the increase in opioid and heroin abuse. In Louisville, KY, for example, 40 people in the metro area have died from a drug overdose as of March 21st, 2016, whereas that number was 31 in 2016 (Mora, 2016). While these numbers will, of course, fluctuate from year to year, Jefferson County (where Louisville is located) has the highest overdose rate in the state; Kentucky, as a whole, has the third highest rate in the nation.

In addition to the concerns about increasing opioid abuse levels, areas that are hardest hit by opioid addiction (and thus require larger amounts of Naloxone) may find themselves unable to keep up with the cost of treating patients. Opioid addiction and overdose rates continue to soar in suburban and rural areas, where financial resources may already be taxed by the basic functions of governance. Rural areas, in particular, face significant issues outside of just the cost of procuring doses – reaching and delivering naloxone to far flung overdose patients requires additional resources, both in terms of human and transportation resources.

While the increased access to Naloxone and Good Samaritan laws protecting those who use it are undoubtedly a good thing, they are only two parts of the Harm Reduction stratagem. Without additional efforts, such as Doctor Shopping Laws, Mandatory Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, and Federally- and state-funded recovery services, we will continue to struggle with the growing opioid and heroin abuse epidemic. As Louisville city councilman stated, “I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of our heroin or opioid problem; I think we’re still in an upward trajectory” (Mora).

References:

All Things Considered. (2015, September 10). Price Soars For Key Weapon Against Heroin Overdoses. National Public Radio: All Things Considered. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/09/10/439219409/naloxone-price-soars-key-weapon-against-heroin-overdoses

Harm Reduction Coaliation. (n.d.). Understanding Naloxone. New York, NY: Harm Reduction Coalition. Retrieved from: http://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/understanding-naloxone/

Mora, C. (2016, April 04). Opioid overdose deaths increase, despite naloxone prevalence. Louisville, KY: WLKY News. Retrieved from: http://www.wlky.com/news/opioid-overdose-deaths-increase-despite-naloxone-prevalence/38859616

Thurston, J. (2016, March 31). CVS locations in Vermont to sell naloxone without prescription. Colchester, VT: WPTZ New Channel 5. Retrieved from: http://www.wptz.com/news/cvs-locations-in-vermont-to-sell-naloxone-without-prescription/38762902

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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