By Holly Williams
Elm Staff Writer
An investigative report from the Senate reveals that the price of Narcan, a drug with an ability to reverse opioid overdoses, has been raised by private Virginia-based drug company Kaleo by more than 600 percent. The current market price is $4,100.
The investigation into the price hike was a bipartisan effort led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE). Kaleo sells Narcan through a product called EVZIO, where the drug is delivered via injection. Where EVZIO departs from many Narcan products on the market is that it is for bystander use.
EVZIO is a handheld unit that contains a built-in speaker narrating instructions. EVZIO doesn’t require vein injection, a task more readily completed by those with medical expertise, but rather muscle injection. This innovative ease of deliverance makes the drug more easily administered by individuals without advanced training.
The report also revealed that Kaleo’s sales force undertook the new strategy of marketing EVZIO as a medically necessary prescription, which would then require government-funded programs to cover the cost, minus co-pays.
This exploitative marketing scheme comes at an especially critical time during the opioid crisis.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that drug overdose deaths in the U.S. hit a record of 72,000. Opiates caused 68 percent of those deaths. That record exceeds the number of all American casualties during the Vietnam War. Drug overdose has claimed more deaths in one year than gun violence, AIDS, or car crashes.
Why, then, should we allow a powerful antidote to become an instrument in a scheme for profit?
Of course, Narcan doesn’t treat the underlying addictions that lead to overdose, but that doesn’t make it any less of a critical medical tool. And an effective tool, at that — Narcan yielded a 93.5 percent survival rate when administered to overdose victims in Massachusetts. It’s hard to determine how many lives Narcan saves precisely, because many times it is used by bystanders, not by state personnel who are required to report such an incident.
Regardless of the exact numbers, it is indisputable that for many, Narcan is another chance to live and seek treatment.
Luckily, Kaleo isn’t the only company that can provide Narcan to local governments seeking to help their populations struggling with drug abuse. Other brands of Narcan are available, but increases in the drug’s price is apparent across the board.
Kaleo has rebutted the condemnation of the report by saying they have yet to cut a profit from EVZIO and have lost money in the four years since the drug hit the market. The company’s CEO appeared on 60 Minutes to argue that the price hike has caused an increase in the number of prescriptions filled.
Through taking advantage of loopholes in Medicaid, Kaleo passed on the fees associated with circulating EVZIO and cost taxpayers approximately $142 million.
Kaleo’s lack of profit is no excuse for their sales scheme. The company has exploited our country’s safety net for vulnerable populations into a pawn for peddling their medication at an expensive price tag.
To gamble with lives by potentially making a life-saving medication more difficult and costlier to access, just for the chance of a financial reward, is a dangerous exercise in greed.