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Opioid overdose antidote costs flying high

Naloxone vials like this one are available at both the Lee and Whiteside county health departments.
Naloxone vials like this one are available at both the Lee and Whiteside county health departments.

A life-saving medicine used to reverse heroin and opioid overdoses already is difficult to get locally, and now its availability could be put further out of reach by its skyrocketing cost.

A new state law now requires police, emergency workers and hospitals to carry naloxone, which is available in three forms: nasal spray, vial and syringe and an auto-inject pen.

"The list price of [Kaleo Pharma’s] auto-inject version – specifically approved for people without medical training to use in a life-threatening crisis – soared from $575 to $3,750 per two-dose package in just 2 years," according to a May 16 article by Politico, a Virginia-based political newspaper, citing data by Truven Health Analytics.

In addition, the cost for a two-syringe kit by Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc. nearly doubled to $66 from 2013 to 2014, and the generic two-vial Hospira product surged 17-fold from $1.84 in 2005 to $31.66 in 2014, the newspaper reported.

Princeton Police Chief Thomas Root, a key player in the plan to bring a Safe Passage program online in Bureau County, said the version styled like an Epi-Pen is the best option for law enforcers because it can be carried on a utility belt, but it is "impossible to get."

Narcan spray is carried by officers and deputies in their vehicles, but carrying the kits into a building when responding to a call can be cumbersome. On the other hand, returning to a squad car to grab a kit when needed can cost critical time, he said.

Root, who has seen the drug listed at $2,000 a dose, a burden for budget-strapped police departments, is calling for a price cap.

He recently attended a conference in Springfield that addressed just that.

There have been 12 overdoses in Bureau County since January: 10 from heroin and two from prescriptions, the chief said. There were seven heroin overdoses the previous year, all fatal, Coroner Janice Wamhoff said.

There are no reported fatalities this year.

Two U.S. senators wrote letters June 3 to the five companies that make naloxone, asking them how they plan to keep the drug affordable.

The issue – like the heroin epidemic itself – is a national concern.

Related: Durbin supports questioning of drugmakers' intent

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, addressed the letter to Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Pfizer Inc.; Adapt Pharmaceuticals; Kaleo Pharma; and Mylan Inc.

"Congress provided funding to help first responders acquire products – including naloxone – to reverse overdoses and provide training in their use," they wrote. "We are concerned, therefore, by recent news reports that indicate the rising price for naloxone may be limiting access."

In Bureau County, the spray ultimately was bought with a $15,000 grant; it will be delivered within a month, Root said. Then officials will see how much money remains for other options.

"The [auto-injector] is the way to go, [but] there's a big cost factor, and that's one of the issues – the pharma companies have made it almost impossible," he said.

The county's Safe Passage program soft-launched 6 to 8 months ago, adding an administrative task force and other resources by following Lee County's lead. It should be fully operational within 4 months, Root said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 27,000 overdose deaths involving prescription opioid medications, heroin, or both in 2014.


The Lee County Health Department, 309 S. Galena Ave., provides the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, and training in how to use it, free of charge to anyone who asks for it.

It also has a free and legal syringe exchange program, free cookers, alcohol pads and cotton, free hepatitis C and HIV testing, and help with health care and treatment referrals.

More information on its Protecting Our Community program is available at or 815-284-3371.

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