The killer price for life-saving drug Narcan

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TOMS RIVER, N.J. (PIX11) -- When PIX 1 Investigates met with Ocean County, New Jersey prosecutor Joseph Coronato earlier this winter, he was already furious about skyrocketing prices for a life-saving drug to reverse heroin overdoses.

“It’s just pure greed, it’s outrageous,” he told PIX 11. “It’s wrong. It’s wrong.” Coronato was talking about the drug companies that manufacture naloxone, commonly known as Narcan. In April 2014, police departments in Ocean County started carrying the kits to stem a tide of fatal heroin overdoses, many of them among young people.

“You used to be able to get a vial for $17, $18 dollars,” Coronato told PIX11, “and now, it’s over $40 dollars they’re charging for a vial.” You could say it’s a case of killer prices for a life-saving drug that’s now in high demand. And similar complaints have come from state attorney generals in New York and Ohio.

Now, some of them are pushing back.

New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, recently negotiated a deal with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, a small California-based company, to cut naloxone prices by 20% this year—and to get a $6.00 rebate for every kit that New York bought.  The prices, per kit, were about $13.00 in New York in early 2014—but by year’s end—they were up to about $33.00 a kit.

Amphastar Pharmaceuticals told the New York Times in November that “manufacturing costs have increased on an annual basis.” Amphastar is just one of the firms that produces naloxone, but it’s favored by many law enforcement agencies for making a nasal-spray version of the drug.  Many police officers have been trained in New York, New Jersey—and across the country—in the life-saving technique to reverse a heroin overdose.

Addicts who take too much heroin frequently go into respiratory arrest, and there’s only a small “window of opportunity” to bring them back, before they die.  Law enforcement officers, health professionals, and even civilians who have been trained to administer naloxone have often marveled at the speed in which it works.

When Staten Island started combating its heroin/painkiller problem with an experimental Narcan program, the results were noticeable. Fatal opioid overdoses were down 32 percent between 2011 and 2013.

When Ocean County, New Jersey started giving cops Narcan kits in April 2014, they’d reversed 129 overdoses by year’s end.  The county remains concerned that most of the fatal overdoses in 2014 were heroin or painkiller related.

92 people fatally overdosed in Ocean County last year. But that was down from 112 in 2013.

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