Cost of heroin antidote Narcan soars, and Christie’s A.G. takes notice

The state attorney general’s office will look into the soaring retail price of the heroin overdose antidote Narcan, acting Attorney General Robert Lougy told NJ Advance Media on Monday. 

Appearing at Hoboken University Medical Center Monday afternoon at a training session for friends and family members who might need to administer the opioid antidote to drug abusers who’d overdosed, Gov. Chris Christie touted Narcan as a crucial first step in getting people from addiction to detox.

“Narcan has saved thousands of lives in New Jersey,” Christie said. “People who otherwise would have died of an overdose if someone hadn’t been prepared and trained with the antidote.” 

Gov.Christie on addiction: ‘We need to acknowledge that it happens everywhere’ Gov. Chris Christie holds a press conference at the Hoboken University Medical Center. 4/18/2016 (Source: Chris Christie press)

The Republican governor noted that some 1,400 individuals had been trained in administering Narcan in the last five months alone, and that it had been deployed nearly 11,000 times since a statewide effort to make it available to all first responders in 2014.

But as Narcan has become increasingly prevalent, its cost has soared both in New Jersey and nationwide, attracting the attention of state attorneys general and Congress.

In March 2014, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick changed his state’s regulations to make Narcan more widely available to first responders. Three months later, Christie followed suit with his own plan to expand access to the antidote state-wide in New Jersey in June 2014.

Soon after Patrick took action, the price of Narcan doubled in Massachusetts, leaping from less than $15 to more than $30 per dose, according to the office of Maura Healey, that state’s attorney general.

“It increased rapidly and inexplicably,” Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Healey, said Monday.

With an eye towards expanding access to the life-saving antidote, last June Christie’s then-acting attorney general John Hoffman negotiated an agreement with Narcan drug manufacturer Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc. under which Amphastar would refund New Jersey $6 per dose sold to qualifying agencies.

But as Amphastar is the only drug company that makes a type of Narcan that can be administered nasally, its price ballooned, along with Amphastar’s revenues, which reached $53 million for the three months ending June 2015.

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In the summer of 2015, towns and cities in Massachusetts were paying between $33 and $66 per dose until its attorney general threatened to sue and reached a $325,000 settlement with the drug-maker last September.

Thomas F. Molta, the president of Hoboken’s Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said that “on average, it costs approximately $43.00 per dose” for each dose of Narcan.

Molta added that “as a volunteer agency every dollar we can save is important to us,” but that he’d not heard about New Jersey’s rebate agreement with Amphastar.

Unlike New Jersey’s agreement with Amphastar, the first-of-its kind settlement struck with Massachusetts created a state-run bulk purchase fund for Narcan that combine a $325,000 payment from the drug-maker with $150,000 in subsidies from Massachusetts’ state coffers.

As a result, first responders in Massachusetts can now buy Narcan at $20 per dose, without any paperwork or waiting for rebates.

N.J. police officer revives overdose victim with Narcan In a video uploaded to YouTube by a user identified as Idrise Maxey-Carmichael, a Paulsboro police officer sprays Narcan into the nose of Kelmae Demore.

When Christie was asked about the Narcan price increases on Monday, and whether they merited revisiting New Jersey’s agreement from last June, the governor answered simply, “Don’t know.”

But Lougy, the governor’s newly-appointed acting attorney general, told NJ Advance Media that his office, which operates independently of the governor’s, will be taking a closer look both at his predecessor’s agreement with Amphastar and the pharmaceutical company’s rationale for its explosive Narcan pricing hikes.

Meanwhile, the cost of Narcan continues to soar in other nearby states, like Maryland.

“In May 2014, a 10-dose pack (of Narcan) cost the Baltimore City Health Department roughly $190,” said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland in his opening remarks at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the heroin epidemic last month. “Guess what? Today, it costs more than $400 for a life-saving drug.”


2 Responses

  1. Appears LaPage and Indy M Pence on the same page of lettem die manual….what with Indiana’s lazy response to HIV outbreak last year and continued handwringing about needle exchange.

    What, it is amazing as a country in the 21st century, people elect throwbacks from the dark ages. Go figure.

    Good blog btw

  2. Apply economics and this makes complete sense. Genocidal jerks like Maine’s Gov LePage threaten to restrict distribution of Narcan. The Narcan factory cannot hire more workers or add machinery, because the LePage followers might shut them down.

    Meanwhile, the ambulance services in New Jersey are stockpiling Narcan.

    Net result: Short supplies of Narcan bid up prices.

    Want Narcan affordable? Lock LePage in the can.

    If this were a soup factory, a run on soup would send the execs running to the bank to borrow money and expand capacity. Alas, ya don’t need a prescription for soup. Ya can’t go to jail for how much soup you eat.

    But because this is Narcan and not soup, ordinary economics get complicated by politics.

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