GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - It's a medication that can reverse an opiate overdose, but Naloxone is getting too expensive for customers to afford.
And it’s making it difficult for at least one local non-profit group from giving away free Naloxone kits to the public.
"That jump in pricing really terrifies us,” said Lexi Reed Holtum who runs the small non-profit Steve Rummler Hope Foundation.
The group, named after of Rummler who died of an opiate overdose, not only trains people how to use Naloxone but gives thousands of kits away each year.
"We have had the discussions of how we are going to keep going,” she said.
That's because the pharmaceutical company Kaleo, which sells the easy-to-use devices Evzio stopped giving them away to the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation and others.
The company says it ran out of its donation supply after donating 150,000 of them across the country, but a spokesperson says they plan to start giving them away again soon.
That said, according to recent numbers compiled by Truven Health Analytics, Kaleo and other pharmaceutical companies, like Pzfizer and Amphastar, have also dramatically increased prices of Naloxone.
Truven Health Analytics reports the whole sale cost of Kaleo's product went from $750 for two injectors last year to $3,750 this year.
“At this point having the system break down because no one can afford it anymore is insane,” said Reed Holtum who oversees $150,000 budget.
Reed Holtum says her organization puts the kits with Evzio together along with literature that typically cost them $25.
“What we could maybe produce for the public across this entire state for $5,00, we now need $35,000 to be able to do the same thing,” she said.
The group distributed about 1,200 kits so far this year. And it still donates the needle version of Naloxone to the public, but that cost is also rising.
Truven Health Analytics states the whole sale cost for the Amphastar product went from $169.50 for 10 pre-filled syringes in 2013 to $330 in 2014. And Hospira’s product, which is owned by Pfizer, went from $9.20 whole sale for 10 vials a decade ago to $158.30 now.
No one from Amphastar or Pfizer got back to KARE 11 with an explanation. A Kaleo spokesperson told us the wholesale price isn't the true cost and often times the customer's out-of-pocket price is zero.
“We believe the most important cost to ensure access to EVZIO is the out-of-pocket cost to patients, which is now in most cases $0 for commercially insured patients and their family members and caregivers, even if their insurance does not cover EVZIO,” said Randi Kahn, a spokesperson for Kaleo.
But Dr. Anne Pyklas, who is a consultant with the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, says the extra cost is paid by someone, and usually it’s the patient who loses out.
The addiction specialist tells KARE 11 she sees insured and uninsured patients leave her office all the time unable to pay for Naloxone.
"It’s impacted my ability to ensure my patients, who are seeking help, are safe,” she said.
The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation partners with groups to provide Naloxone kits including metro-area hospitals and treatment facilities.
Dan Cain is the president of RS Eden, a drug and alcohol treatment center. The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation provides kits to RS Eden, but Cain says if the prices continue to rise they may have to look elsewhere.
“It seems opportunistic,” he said of the pharmaceutical companies.
Senator Amy Klobuchar recently asked for a federal investigation into prescription drug pricing, as well as a congressional hearing.
“Naloxone is one example of a drug going from $0.92 a dose to more than $15 a dose over the last decade, and should be the subject of investigation just like many other drugs. We need to pass the bills to allow more generics into the market and competition from countries like Canada,” Klobuchar said in a statement.
State Senator Chris Easton, whose daughter died of a heroin overdose, is working on legislation that would allow the state to make bulk purchases of Naloxone in hopes of bringing down the price. She is also working to expand Medicaid coverage for the life-saving medication.
“It’s pretty frustrating because it’s life and death,” Eaton said, a Democrat from Brooklyn Center. “I’m furious.”
The Minnesota Department of Health oversees a program that gives Naloxone to first responders across the state. A spokesperson did not know how the price hikes have impacted the various EMS regions who distribute the medication, but says initial calculations indicate the state will not be able to purchase as much product.
Kaleo says it offers an assistance program for some people who can’t afford the medication. You can find more information here.