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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ohio and Narcan: Saving Lives and Cost Gouging

If you cannot imagine the scope of drug overdose deaths in Ohio, consider the following information about naloxone, often known as Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids on the brain and can limit or stop an overdose when given to an individual overdosing on heroin or a prescription opioid.

"Ohio’s use of the drug is steadily growing, with naloxone having been administered an estimated 74,000 times in the state between 2003 and 2012. More than 10,500 of those doses were administered in 2012 alone.

"A poisoning death review by Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine, in collaboration with the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office, showed that of 162 overdose deaths in that county in 2012, heroin or other opiates showed up in the systems of 146 who died of “unintentional” overdoses. A drug like Narcan could potentially have saved 41, researchers said in the study."

("DeWine wants rebate to state for high cost of Narcan." Journal-News.
Middletown. February 17, 2015)

Narcan has proven effective in reviving overdose victims if used promptly.

Following a 2014 law allowing Ohio law enforcement officers to carry and administer naloxone, Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy created a training video on the administration of the drug. To date, more than 1,400 law enforcement officers have completed the course.

The law also gave friends, family members or others who may be in the position to assist someone suffering from an opioid overdose the ability to administer naloxone as long as they receive the drug from a licensed health professional.

In addition, Ohio counties are giving blue nylon bags, containing two vials of the medication plus two nasal devices and instructions, to those with drug addiction histories who are being released from jail or treatment centers -- this is a pilot program known as Project DAWN for “Deaths Avoided with Narcan."

Click here for Project DAWN information and sites: http://www.healthy.ohio.gov/vipp/drug/ProjectDAWN.aspx

And, of course, Amphastar, the maker of the drug has already raised prices dramatically. They are rightly being accused of price gouging. Doesn't the greed of Big Pharma give you reason to suspicion their true intentions? Lives are in the balance, yet money always seems to drive the conscience (if they have one left) of the out-of-control pharmaceutical market. The public must demand change.

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans is very skeptical of the price increase. While acknowledging demand is up, Evans said naloxone has been available for 30 years and its patent has expired, which should reduce costs.

“Why should the price go up all of a sudden just because we’re using it more?” Evans said. “It’s a generic drug that shouldn’t be that big of an expense.”

(Evan Goodenow. "Ohio attorney general contacts drug maker after Narcan price doubles."
The Chronicle-Telegram. Lorain. February 18, 2015)

Attorney General DeWine and Ohio are asking Amphastar to give rebates to police departments and other agencies after the company increased its prices. This month, Amphastar reached an agreement with the state of New York on the cost of naloxone, resulting in a $6 rebate per dose.

According to Cuyahoga County Project DAWN, the wholesale price of Amphastar naloxone varied with their hospital distributor between $12.78 and $14 a vial in 2013 and early 2014. By October 2014, the price jumped to $28.50 a vial.

Captain Todd Day of the Middletown Division of Fire said the price for the drug increased by 55 percent in three weeks. Day said the drug’s manufacturer gave fire officials advanced notice of the price hike but not a reason for it. Naturally, taxpayers are the ones who will have to pay the increase.

Middletown firefighters and paramedics said calls for possible drug overdoses were also up by 54 percent this last year with 165 in 2014 compared to 107 in 2013. Day said the fire department averages about one call per day for drug overdoses.

(Lot Tan. "Cost spikes for life-saving Narcan drug." Journal-News.
Middletown. November 21, 2014)

It is reported that naloxone saved at least 500 lives in Lorain County last year. Last year, 65 people fatally overdosed on opiates in Lorain County, just short of a record 67 in 2013. However, LifeCare Ambulance paramedics made 435 Narcan saves last year and police countywide made 63, including 44 by Lorain police. This year through February 16, Lorain police have made three saves, said police spokesman Capt. Roger Watkins.

On average, approximately five people die each day in Ohio due to drug overdose. This epidemic requires immediate actions such as the broad administration of Narcan. Yes, the program costs the taxpayers money. However, no pious individual should judge the worthlessness of a single life lost to overdose. And, no person should deny their responsibility to save lives. The means to do so is proven effective -- it must be used to help stop the terrible death toll. Can you even imagine the death statistics without Narcan?

We can argue the real causes of addiction and debate whether it is a disease or a conscious sinful action, but, in the meantime, people are dying of opiate drug overdoses. I must ask you, is a fellow Ohioan's life worth $28.50 to your pocketbook? Do you already know one casualty of drug abuse that you would have given an untold amount to save? I think you do. I certainly know many more than one.

God bless you, Attorney General DeWine. I support your kind, humanitarian actions.
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