Prices surging for lifesaving anti-overdose agents

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The opioid epidemic is touching every corner of the community.

“The drug drives your desire,” said Avi Israel, founder of Save the Michaels, named after his late son, Michael, who battled with addiction after being prescribed pain pills to treat his Crohn’s disease.

The Erie County medical examiner says the number of overdose deaths is increasing.

“Can you imagine spending a holiday and having an empty chair, knowing that something could have been done?” says Israel, with tears in his eyes.

This year, there have been 230 confirmed opioid-involved deaths; 90 more are pending toxicology results. In all of 2015, there were 256 overdose deaths in the county.

“We know our opioid related deaths are too high,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, the Erie County Health Commissioner. “Those numbers would be far higher if we didn’t have this opportunity to save lives with Naloxone.”

Naloxone is an overdose reversal agent used by many – first responders, treatment facility employees, healthcare providers, parents, other addicts. The opportunities to use it are becoming more rare though as there’s a shortage and a price hike.

“All of a sudden the supply becomes scarce and then the supply that is available has a price increase,” said the health commissioner.

The price varies by company but across the board — it’s surging.

The one-time injectable version now costs $2250; in 2015, its price was less than $400. A nasal spray version is now more than $40 per dose; it cost $12 a few years ago. Another version cost 92 cents in 2005 and now it’s $15.80 per dose.

“You see pharmaceutical companies decide to take advantage of situations like this,” said Israel. “To me, it’s greed. That’s what it is – greed at the cost of American lives.”

Naloxone is being used regularly in the county.

The Buffalo Police estimate they use it on average, 40 times a month; in 2016, they’ll use it just under 500 times.

Buffalo Fire tracks the exact number of times its used. In the first 10 months of the year, they administered 357 doses of Naloxone. It worked 340 times, reversing the overdose, saving a life.

Many worry what will happen as the prices are increasing – they’re fearful access to Naloxone will decrease.

“As a result, we’re going to get more people dying,” said Israel.

“If Naloxone, a lifesaving agent, becomes unaffordable, we will lose the opportunity we’ve seen actually works to save lives,” said Dr. Burstein.

“Nobody can go into rehab; nobody can enter remission if they’re dead,” said Israel, very straightforward. “Some people get a second chance. If there’s no drug to revive them, they’re going to lose that chance.”

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