While the cost of EpiPens has taken the spotlight the past few weeks, another potentially life-saving drug is seeing similar spikes that are making it difficult for public health officials to expand its use to curb the nation's opioid crisis.
Baltimore currently pays around $40 for a single dose of naloxone, compared to $20 a dose it was paying just six months ago. An analysis conducted by Truven Health Analytics found the price for the injectable version of naloxone rose from $0.92 a dose to more than $15 a dose over the last decade.
Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said that's prevented her from equipping all of the city's first responders with naloxone and expandind the city's recent efforts to train residents to administer the drug. She fears that will leave areas in the city with not enough access to the life-saving medication.
“It's very problematic for those of us in the front line,” Wen said. “We're being priced out of it.”
Drug manufacturers say manufacturing costs and insurance company policies are responsible for the increases. Industry experts note that while generics have entered the market, they've done little to lower the costs.
But renewed local efforts to curb an opioid abuse crisis that's responsible for more than 14,000 overdose deaths in 2014, have increased the demand for the drug and the ability for drugmakers to raise its cost.
Last October, Wen issued a citywide order to make naloxone available without a prescription and her department began training non-medical professionals on how to administer the injection. As many as 14,000 have been trained as of August.
Baltimore and the state's Medicaid program have negotiated a lower cost of naloxone, allowing it to be available for $1 a dose to beneficiaries.
A local not-for-profit donated grants to supply police, firefighters and emergency medical providers with naloxone and in September, pharmaceutical firm Kaleo, one of five producers of the medication, donated 6,500 naloxone kits. Last November, the company raised the price of a single injection of naloxone to $375, a 30% spike since July 2014.
Wen said donations and grants have helped, but what was needed was a more sustainable way to make the drug affordable to ensure supplies do not run out. Insurers rarely pay for the drugs.
“It is a travesty that this medication that's available as a generic and that's available for pennies in other countries will be so expensive here as to prevent us from saving lives,” she said.