Expensive naloxone injector raises concerns in the treatment community

By February 15, 2017 June 13th, 2017 Addiction News

If you’re aware of the opioid addiction epidemic, you’ve probably heard the word “naloxone.” This medication, which reverses an overdose from opioid drugs, has been central to efforts to combat rising rates of overdose deaths. Many efforts to address the crisis have focused on getting forms of this overdose aid into the hands of anyone who might be involved in an overdose situation. But one medical device company is taking heat for a dramatic hike in the price of a popular naloxone injector device.

Makers of expensive naloxone injector seek to justify price jump

The company Kaleo manufactures a naloxone injector called Evzio that makes it easy for untrained bystanders to administer the life-saving overdose drug. It’s the only device that delivers voice instructions talking the user through how to use the injector on someone currently experiencing an overdose. However, the ease of use now comes at a steep cost. Demand for naloxone has increased along with the worsening opioid epidemic, and over the last two years Kaleo has raised the price of their injector from $690 to $4,500. Although the company asserts that the price is justified, much of the reporting on the price jump has asked if it represents exploitation of a vulnerable population.

Evzio isn’t the only naloxone delivery device on the market. Another naloxone injector costs only $40, although it does not come with the same ease of use for the untrained. There is a nasal spray available as well, which is also much cheaper than the Kaleo device. However, Evzio sales have constituted 20 percent of all naloxone sales over the last two years, and the company is trying to gain a secure foothold in the market by distributing the device for free to institutional addiction treatment providers and first responders. When these limited donations run out, the prohibitive price remains.

Other options for many who can’t afford more expensive naloxone injector

For those concerned about the unaffordable price of the overdose-reversing device, there are ways of obtaining naloxone—and getting trained on its use—that are accessible to everyone. After a record spike in emergency calls about opioid overdoses over one weekend in Louisville, Ky., health officials held a free training session on administering the drug. Community training sessions on using naloxone are increasingly common in regions suffering from the opioid epidemic. As training in proper use of the drug spreads, the need for a device with step-by-step voice instructions could shrink. Many local naloxone training sessions also provide free doses of naloxone to those who complete the training.

naloxone pharmacist

According to Pharmacy Times, Kentucky is on the front line of improving awareness and access to naloxone for those in need. The state is the first in the country to introduce a state-wide registry of naloxone providers and distributors. The registry is a project of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy, and can be found at a special Stop Overdoses webpage. Users can access a map which displays all locations where naloxone can be bought or otherwise obtained. They can also type in their city or zip code to see the nearest distributors of the overdose-reversing drug.

Price gouging of medical devices in high demand isn’t a wholly new phenomenon, but that fact would be a cold comfort to those negatively impacted by Evzio’s extreme price jump. It’s important for anyone who might ever find themselves in an overdose situation to be aware of the easiest way to obtain the overdose reversal drug without having to buy an expensive naloxone injector. Because it is becoming policy for first responders to carry naloxone, those in an emergency situation should first call 911. The Kentucky ODCP Stop Overdoses page also has some basic instructions on responding to an opioid overdose. While those in Kentucky have the added benefit of an online directory, it’s a good idea to be aware of the nearest naloxone distribution or purchase points wherever you are.

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Header image and body image by Governor Tom Wolf are licensed under CC BY 2.0.