Lawmakers press company on cost of heroin overdose drug

By Peter Sullivan, The Hill

Two top lawmakers are pressing a pharmaceutical company for answers about price increases on a drug police departments use to treat heroin overdoses.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member on a health subcommittee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, sent a letter Monday to Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the drug naloxone. 

“Over the past several months, police departments, law enforcement agencies, and public health officials across the country have warned about the increasing price of naloxone, which they use to combat the scourge of heroin abuse,” the members wrote. 

The lawmakers cite a New York Times article from November reporting that the price of the drug had increased by as much as 50 percent, an obstacle in efforts by police departments to equip officers with the drug.

The New York attorney general last month announced an agreement for Amphastar to offer a $6 rebate per dose to agencies in New York. But the lawmakers question the price in the rest of the country.

“Although we are encouraged by your stated willingness to work with other states, it remains unclear why your company has not already lowered its prices in states other than New York,” the lawmakers wrote.  “The rapid increase in the cost of this life-saving medication in such a short time frame is a significant public health concern.” 

Overdose deaths from opiates like heroin are a rising problem. The death rate more than tripled between 1999 and 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The rising numbers led Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) to devote his entire State of the State address in 2014 to the rise in heroin overdoses.

Sanders and Cummings have been pressing for cheaper drugs in other areas as well. Both are proponents of generic drugs to hold down costs, and held a hearing in the fall on price increases for a range of generic drugs.