Health Care

Leahy presses anti-overdose drug’s maker on price hike

[S]en. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., along with 30 Democratic colleagues, is demanding answers from a pharmaceutical company that has increased the price of a lifesaving anti-opioid drug injector more than sixfold over the last two years.

In January, Kaiser Health News reported that Kaleo Pharmaceuticals, a Virginia-based company, had greatly increased the price of its anti-overdose injector called Evzio. The company has raised the price of its twin-pack of the injectors — which deliver naloxone to people who overdosed — from $690 in 2014 to $4,500 in 2016.

Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. File photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

In a blistering letter sent Wednesday to Kaleo Pharmaceuticals CEO Spencer Williamson, Leahy and fellow Democrats said the hike “threatens to price-out families and communities that depend on naloxone to save lives.”

“This drug is now in the hands of first responders and families struggling with substance use disorder across the country,” the letter reads. “It is particularly needed in rural areas where access to life-saving emergency services can be limited.”

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Evzio accounted for nearly 20 percent of the naloxone dispensed through retail outlets between 2015 and 2016, and for nearly half of all naloxone products prescribed to patients between age 40 and 64 — the group that represents the bulk of naloxone users. Evzio is one of only two FDA-approved naloxone products, the other being the nasal spray Narcan.

More than 30,000 people died from opioid overdoses in America last year, and a recent Seven Days investigation found Vermont deaths in 2016 reached a record high of 100.

In July, President Barack Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to re-examine prescription policies in the United States and enacted more stringent FDA requirements for opioids to be approved for new applications. Another provision of the law, written by Leahy, expanded availability of naloxone in rural areas.

“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,” the senators wrote.

The letter asks Kaleo to fully explain its pricing structure for the naloxone injector and to account for whether increased production costs contributed to the price spike. The senators also sought additional details regarding Kaleo’s contention that it donates the drug to cities, rehabilitation programs and first responders.

“How many devices does Kaleo set aside for your donation program compared to your total production?” the letter asks.

Kaiser reported that, in addition to the surge in price for Kaleo’s injector, the cost of naloxone has roughly doubled over the last few years as the demand for the drug has increased.

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Jasper Craven

About Jasper

Jasper Craven is a freelance reporter for VTDigger.

A Vermont native, he first discovered his love for journalism at the Caledonian Record. He double-majored in print journalism and political science at Boston University, and worked in the Boston Globe’s Metro and Investigative units. While at the Globe he collaborated on Shadow Campus, a three-part investigative series focused on greed and mismanagement in Boston’s off-campus student housing market. The series was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.
He also spent two years at MuckRock, a news site dedicated to investigation and analysis of government documents. 

Craven covered Vermont’s U.S. congressional delegation for the Times Argus in the summer of 2014, and worked as a Metro reporter for the Chicago Tribune before joining the staff of VTDigger from 2015-2017.

Email: [email protected]

Follow Jasper on Twitter @Jasper_Craven

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