Cantwell, Senators Call on Administration to Take Immediate Action to Reduce Price of Life-Saving Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and 15 of her colleagues today called on Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to take immediate action to increase access to and reduce the price of naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug.
The senators’ letter follows a recent national advisory issued by the United States Surgeon General urging more Americans to keep on hand and learn how to use naloxone delivery devices. The letter also follows recent moves by retail pharmacies to widen access to products containing naloxone and, in many states, make them prescription-free.
“No police officer, no firefighter, no public health provider, and no person should be unable to save a life because of the high price,” wrote the lawmakers. “By bringing down the cost, we can get this life-saving drug in the hands of more people as called for by the Surgeon General. Doing so will save countless lives.”
The price of hand-held auto-injector forms of naloxone have increased from $690 in 2014 to more than $4,000 today for a two pack, while the cost of one type of injectable naloxone drug has nearly doubled between 2009 to 2016, according to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine[WB(1] . In addition, the cost of Narcan, a form of naloxone that comes as a nasal spray, is listed at $150 per two pack, putting the life-saving drug out of reach for many families.
“The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended empowering the HHS Secretary to negotiate reduced pricing,” the lawmakers continued. “To date, no such action has been taken by HHS. We urge HHS to immediately negotiate a lower price for easy-to-administer naloxone combination products. In addition, we ask you to ensure affordable coverage for individuals with health insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid, and individual and employer-sponsored plans.”
“While a $50 or $60 overdose reversal drug may not seem like a lot of money, it is cost prohibitive for many families. By addressing the increasing price of naloxone, first responders, health care providers, and family members will be able to save lives in an overdose situation," said Spokane City Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer.
Today’s letter comes as Senator Cantwell continues her leadership in the fight against the opioid epidemic. In December of 2016, Senator Cantwell supported the 21st Century Cures Act, which provided over $1 billion in federal funds to combat the opioid epidemic, including $11.7 million in funding for Washington state. In February of 2018, Cantwell introduced the CARES Act, to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for misleading advertising and negligent distribution practices. Later that month, Cantwell joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce CARA 2.0, a comprehensive bill to increase funding for programs providing opioid education, treatment, and recovery.
In addition to Senator Cantwell, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Angus King (I-ME), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Gary Peters (D-MI) signed the letter to Secretary Azar.
The full text of the letter is HERE and below.
April 18, 2018
The Honorable Alex Azar
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Azar:
We write to ask the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take immediate action to increase access and reduce the price of naloxone auto-injectors and nasal sprays; life-saving opioid overdose reversal products. We believe that every individual, municipality, and entity that wants to equip themselves with these products should be able to afford to.
The opioid epidemic claimed the lives of 42,249 Americans in 2016 – about 115 Americans every day. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, exceeding the peak car crash and H.I.V. deaths. Unfortunately, despite the progress health care providers, first responders, state governments, and others have made in fighting the epidemic, data from the CDC suggests that the problem is still getting worse, as there were more than 45,000 deaths from August 2017 to August 2018.
As you know, United States Surgeon General Dr. Jerome M. Adams issued a national advisory urging more Americans to keep on hand and learn how to use naloxone delivery devices. He states that, “increasing the availability and targeted distribution of naloxone is a critical component of our efforts to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths and, when combined with the availability of effective treatment, to ending the opioid epidemic.” We strongly agree.
Unfortunately, despite being approved by the FDA more than 45 years ago, the price of naloxone has increased dramatically during the epidemic. The prices of the two user-friendly devices that can be administered outside of a health care setting are the highest. Narcan, which delivers naloxone as a nasal spray, costs $150 for a two pack and Evzio, a hand-held auto-injector, increased in price from $690 in 2014 to more than $4,000 today for a two pack.
Such high prices are already leaving local fire, police, and health departments struggling to afford naloxone, and many Americans will want to follow the Surgeon General’s advisory only to realize they are unable to afford the drug that could save their own life or the life of someone they know. The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended empowering the HHS Secretary to negotiate reduced pricing, and in October 2017 19 Senators wrote in support of this policy. To date, no such action has been taken by HHS. We urge HHS to immediately negotiate a lower price for easy-to-administer naloxone combination products. In addition, we ask you to ensure affordable coverage for individuals with health insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid, and individual and employer sponsored plans.
No police officer, no firefighter, no public health provider, and no person should be unable to save a life because of the high price. By bringing down the cost, we can get this life-saving drug in the hands of more people as called for by the Surgeon General. Doing so will save countless lives.
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