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This Drug Saves Lives, but Good Luck Getting It

For drugmakers, Naloxone means opportunity—and controversy

There are 700,000 heroin users in America, and they are dying from overdoses in record numbers—100 per day, by one estimate.

The good news is that a drug called naloxone, first developed in the ’60s and now available generically, works miracles by reversing overdoses instantly.

However, public health advocates are concerned by the stranglehold drugmakers have on the product.

“For the past two months—since the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman—my phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” said Dr. Sharon Stancliff, medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group focused on the health of drug users. “States are clamoring to make this drug more available, but the price has continued to go up. I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

“They” are Hospira and Amphastar, which make naloxone. Hospira has come under criticism for doubling the price of its form of the drug, Narcan. (Hospira did not respond to a request for comment.)

Recognizing the demand, Mylan and Kaléo Pharma recently announced plans to produce naloxone, the latter as an auto-injectable form called Evzio. “Kaléo expects Evzio to do very well in the market,” said a spokesman. “It is a first-in-class therapy addressing a healthcare crisis in the U.S.”

Some health advocates remain uneasy. “It’s encouraging that companies are making naloxone,” said Tessie Swope Castillo of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. But, she added, they likely will continue to be costly.

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