Deaths Spike as OD Antidote Price Soars

Expert attributes thousands of deaths to greed amid naxolone supply issues
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 20, 2021 7:29 AM CDT
As Price of Overdose Antidote Soars, Is It 'Profit' Over Life?
In this Sept. 11, 2019 file photo, a fire medic holds a box containing naloxone hydrochloride which is carried in all their department's emergency response vehicles, in Akron, Ohio.   (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The US has seen a record high in overdose deaths during the pandemic, and an addiction expert says "we can expect even more fatal overdoses" now that a medication that reverses overdoses has jumped up to 30 times in price. The Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network Buyers Club, a collective of 100 harm-reduction programs, has a deal with drug manufacturer Pfizer that allows the purchase of life-saving naloxone at low cost. The club provided 1.3 million doses last year at about $2.50 each. But production issues this year, including a temporary stoppage in supply in April, have created a shortage—the Washington Post described as a "250,000-dose backorder" in August—which has in turn caused prices to soar to between $37 to $75, per the Guardian.

The CDC said Wednesday that almost 100,000 people died of overdoses during the first year of the pandemic, for a 30% increase over the preceding year. "Not having this life-saving medication to reduce overdose deaths, during a time when we're seeing the greatest increase we've ever seen, is a public health crisis," Amanda Latimore, director of the Center for Addiction Research and Effective Solutions, tells the Guardian, adding more fatal overdoses will follow. Nabarun Dasgupta, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says he "estimated 12,000 to 18,000 excess deaths if we didn't get the shortage handled, and I think a good chunk of those deaths have already happened."

While Pfizer expects to be back at full capacity by the year's end, Dasgupta says other pharmaceutical companies could fill the need now by lowering their prices, if "profit" didn't stand in the way. Emergent BioSolutions, which produces naloxone under the name Narcan (sold for $75, per the Guardian) says it "provides a discounted price to national, state, and local governmental health and safety entities closest to at-risk populations, including public health clinics, fire departments, and police departments." But harm-reduction groups, which aren't included, say drug users are likely to avoid law enforcement for fear of prosecution. The Buyers Club even argues naloxone is expiring on police shelves, per the Post. (More naloxone stories.)

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