Drug Money: The cost of saving lives
As the heroin and opiod epidemic grows every year in our area, there's a bigger demand on your tax dollars.
Pharmaceutical companies that sell Naloxone -- the drug that reverses opioid overdoses -- are spiking the price at a dramatic rate. Cities are feeling the sting as they try to keep this drug on hand.
In 2015 more people died from opioid overdoses than deaths attributed to firearms. With death tolls reaching new highs, first responders are using more of the drug to try and save lives -- and pharmaceutical companies are cashing in. So how much does it cost to save a life?
If you chip away the layers of paint on a mural in High Dive Park, It’s the story of a brother, a dancer, and a friend. Lost too soon.
"This green down here, this purple,” Sam Callantine showed us a mural of set in remembrance of his brother. "It had a mural of him in a dance."
Sam’s brother, Jeremey Callantine, died of a heroin overdose last year.
"It's one of those things where you wonder if you're ever going to get past it, you wonder if your heart is ever going to feel better,” says Callantine.
It's the reason more and more emergency responders are stocking Naloxone, a drug that could've saved Callantine's life. The price of it increasing at a dramatic rate.
"It seems like back in 2008 we were well under $10 a dose, and now we're approaching $30 a dose,” says Chief Brian Thomas at the Mishawaka Fire Department.
That's causing first responders to re-arrange their budgets.
"It takes a lot of money to operate a fire department and the EMS division within it. So we're seeing medications go up by 300 or 400 percent. Obviously it affects us dramatically.” Added Chief Thomas.
If we break this down, according to Mishawaka EMS, they pay $27.73 per dose of Naloxone. In 2016, they administered the drug 114 times, coming to a grand total of $3,161.22.
Mishawaka gets their Naloxone at a reduced cost from Saint Joseph Health Systems. WSBT 22 asked which pharma company it gets Naloxone from and how much it costs. St. Joseph County told us in part in this statement, saying:
"Unfortunately we are unable to share the cost at which we obtain a specific drug due to our contractual obligations... As a part of our mission to care for the community, we are able to assist community partners like EMS in accessing these reduced costs."
The five pharmaceutical companies that produce naloxone have all hiked prices in recent years. Dan Bigg with the Chicago Recovery Alliance says the limited number of producers has kept the price high and increasing.
"It's certainly not what you would expect from a free market. Increased availability would lead to decreased prices,” says Bigg.
Fierce Pharma, a pharmaceutical industry news site, says Amphastar Pharmaceuticals charged $41 a dose for naloxone in 2015. According to Business Insider, 14 years earlier it was $12. That's not the only company with price spikes. Hospira sold naloxone for $22 a dose in 2014, up from $0.92 a dose in 2005 according to Business insider. Hospira was bought by Pfizer. The wholesale cost is now $15.83 per dose.
Pfizer says in a statement:
"Hospira's generic naloxone is unlike other branded versions typically used by first responders because it is a vial intended to be administered in a hospital setting. From the time naloxone entered our portfolio in September 2015 our focus has been on providing access to this life saving treatment. We believe it is priced responsibly at a Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC) price of $15.83 per dose for the single dose vial and $11.87 per dose for the multidose vial (10 doses in a vial); additionally, the list price does not reflect the considerable discounts offered to our customers. Pfizer has developed and implemented a variety of innovative public-private partnerships designed to address unmet medical needs and global public health issues, including the Pfizer Naloxone Access Program, which includes a donation of up to 1 million doses of Naloxone over four years and $1 million in opioid overdose grants to several states. More information on the program is available here: http://www.pfizer.com/responsibility/global-health"
"A lot of companies have been willing to make samples or even give much better deals to programs like ours,” says Biggs.
That helps, but local EMS are being forced to look at the impact prices are having overall.
"We all know the tax laws have changed...and with some of these drugs its taking money away from one area that we're trying to work with and having to put into this area, so it does affect us,” says Chief Thomas.
Both South Bend and Mishawaka departments are feeling the pressure.
"I have seen inflation in the prices of Narcan over the last 5 and a half years I've been in this position,” says Assistant Cheif EMS Andrew Myer with the South Bend Fire Department.
To keep the drug that can save someone's life.
"I don't know if "scared" is the right word, but we're definitely aware of it and concerned,” added Chief Thomas.
And for the families who have lost a loved one, saving those precious seconds is something that can't put a price tag on.
Sam Callantine says, "When somebody is ripped from your life so quickly that was so close to you, it's unbelievable.”
Sam Callantine started non-profit organization working on helping the community heal from the devastation created by the opioid epidemic.
For more information on his non-profit or to volunteer visit: http://www.gweedospurpleshamrocks.org/