As Prices Rise For A Life-Saving Drug, Lawmakers Call On States To Negotiate Better Deals

Jul 13, 2015

In response to the rising rate of heroin overdose deaths, police in communities across the country are saving lives with naloxone (or Narcan), an easily-administered drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in a few minutes. Thirty-one states have passed laws expanding access to the drug since 2012. But prices have been rising, and some in government think things have gotten out of control.

On Monday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) issued a letter calling on state officials to negotiate lower prices with manufacturer Amphastar Pharmaceuticals. The letter was sent to the National Governors Association, National Lieutenant Governors Association, and National Association of Attorneys General.

Amphastar dominates the naloxone market for government agencies because it’s the only U.S. drug maker that manufactures the drug as a nasal spray, which is easier to administer than its injectable form.  In Monday’s letter, Cummings and Sanders point to agreements established between the states of New York and Ohio and Amphastar earlier this year, in which the company agreed to a partial rebate on naloxone purchases paid for by public agencies.

According to a report in MedPage today, naloxone’s wholesale price increased from $13 to $30 per dose on December 1, 2014. Other reports cite the price per dose at $40.

Cummings wrote a separate open letter last week to the governor of his home state of Maryland to take action. “I urge you to make sure that the company charging these prices is not allowed to continue taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland,” Cummings wrote in his letter to Governor Larry Hogan, Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford, and Attorney General Brian Frosh.

In Maryland, according to the state's naloxone training program’s webpage, over 5,000 doses of naloxone have been dispensed and 73 lives saved since the state launched the program in 2014, but Cummings warns that the rising price poses a threat to the program.

In response to Cummings’ letter last week, Governor Hogan will approach Amphastar “to determine if action can be taken to address the rising cost,” press secretary Shareese  Churchill wrote in an email.  Amphastar president Jason Shandell told the Wall Street Journal recently that his company is willing to offer Maryland and other states rebates.