The war against opioids: On the front lines in Mid-Michigan


Eugene Griffor knows what it's like to be on death's doorstep.

The Saginaw man was in the hospital last year being treated for pneumonia. The hospital gave him morphine to treat his pain, but in one instance, they accidentally gave him too much.

He said the drug Narcan saved his life from an overdose.

"Actually, if I wouldn't have gotten the Narcan I would have ended up dead,” Griffor said.

Narcan also is instrumental in the battle against opioid use. The nasal injected version of the drug is being used by first responders across the United States. It's saving the lives of opioid abusers, which include heroin users.

Such abuse has reached epidemic proportions in Mid-Michigan.

"The way the trends are going right now I'm afraid that might be the case. I hope that we don't lose too many more young people to this deadly disease, but it seems to be the current trend,” Sam Price said.

Price operates a drug rehab clinic in Midland. He can’t overemphasize how important Narcan is needed right now.

“It’s the only medication that can reverse somebody who is in an overdose situation. So making sure that our first responders have it is essential,” he said.

Now, Kaléo Pharmaceuticals - which manufactures the easy-to-use injectors of the drug as a generic form of Narcan called Nalaxone - has boosted its price from nearly $700 in 2014 to $4,500 currently each time it’s given. The cost is per dose.

Thirty-one members of the U.S. Senate, including Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, are pleading with the drug maker to scale back the price. A copy of the letter sent to Kaléo Pharmaceuticals on Feb. 7 is available below.Dear Mr. Williamson:

We are deeply concerned about reports that Kaléo dramatically increased the cost of its naloxone injector device, Evzio, an FDA approved medication used for the emergency treatment of an opioid overdose—from $690 for a two pack in 2014 to $4,500 today. As you know, this drug is now in the hands of first responders and families struggling with substance use disorder across the country. It is particularly needed in rural areas where access to life-saving emergency services can be limited. Such a steep rise in the cost of this drug threatens to price-out families and communities that depend on naloxone to save lives.

Addiction to heroin and other opioids has reached epidemic levels. More than 30,000 Americans are estimated to die each year due to opioid overdoses. Through increased access to community education, treatment and recovery programs, so many of these deaths could be preventable. Naloxone products are an important part of any community’s response to our nation’s opioid crisis, and demand for naloxone products has increased significantly in recent years. Evzio was designed to be simple to administer, making it particularly well suited for use by laypersons such as families looking to protect loved ones from overdose. Unfortunately, reports indicate Kaléo has responded to the increased need for naloxone devices by ratcheting up the price for Evzio from $690 for a two pack in 2014 to $4,500 currently.

At a time when Congress has worked to expand access to naloxone products and to assist state and local communities to equip first responders with this life-saving drug, this startling price hike is very concerning. In response to press reports about the price increase, Kaléo has argued that the list price is not a “true gauge” for what consumers are actually paying for the device, because through program discounts and coupons patients often have a low or even zero cost share for Evzio. We are concerned about the impact the high list price may have for those who do not qualify for the program and for state and local entities who hope to purchase large quantities of your product.

To help us understand Kaléo’s actions, we would appreciate your response to the following:

Please detail your pricing structure for Evzio since the product received FDA approval and provide documentation for why the company has chosen to adjust the pricing structure, including information on if the production costs of Evzio contribute to the price increases.

How many devices does Kaléo set aside for your donation program compared to your total production and how are you ensuring that it meets the demand for devices among first responders, state health departments, and other public entities across the country? Please explain what steps Kaléo has taken to inform consumers of their eligibility for these donation programs.

What is the total amount Evzio received in reimbursements from the federal government in the past 12 months? Approximately what percentage of your customers relied on federally funded dollars, through reimbursements or otherwise, to purchase Evzio during that period?

We look forward to working with you to ensure patients across the country have access to this life-saving device. Local responders won’t have to pay that huge markup on Nalaxone because hospitals in the area have allocated funds to cover the cost of the markup.

"The way it's packaged and the way we order and deliver it really hasn't changed,” said Jason MacDonald with MMR.

That’s a good thing, because on the flip side it looks like first responders are going to need a lot of Naloxone.

“Yeah, the statistics tell us that we are going to be using more and more,” MacDonald said.

Like the Epi-pen controversy last year, health officials believe the makers of Narcan will elevate their price.

“At least it seems on the surface that big pharmacy companies are just profiteering over somebody’s very tragic disease right now,” Price said.

Griffor is alive today thanks to Narcan. He hopes something can be done to make the drug affordable for those who need it.

“Everything that saves lives they want to raise up to make money on it, you know, kind of monopolize the market, you know, and I just don’t think it’s right at all,” he said.

Copyright 2017 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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