State Attorney General George Jepsen wants a California-based drugmaker to explain why the cost of a medication used to treat heroin overdoses has suddenly jumped, claiming the increase could jeopardize lives if Connecticut first responders can no longer afford to administer it.
Jepsen wrote a letter this week to Jack Zhang, CEO of Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc., asking why the cost of Naxolone, a drug also known as Narcan, has “dramatically and unexpectedly” risen.
The drug is injected into patients to counter the effects of an opioid overdose, and first responders in Connecticut often use it to treat those suffering from heroin overdoses, according to Jepsen.
“While access to Naxolone will not solve the problem of opioid abuse or misuse, it will save lives,” he wrote in the letter. “For this reason, Connecticut has taken a number of steps over the last several years to get Naxolone into the hands of first responders, law enforcement officials, and even family members who might be able to save a life.”
But Amphastar’s recent price increases for the drug could become prohibitive and are already creating a burden for state and municipal responders, he said.
The price hike, he added, came just as Connecticut is implementing new laws increasing Naloxone’s availability to police, first responders, and others in the state. The new laws were in response to a rise in heroin and prescription opioid abuse.
Officials at Amphastar did not return a call seeking comment.
Since a law took effect a year ago allowing police officers to administer the drug, state troopers have responded to 34 emergencies in which a person was unconscious from a heroin-related overdose and they were able to administer the drug “with positive results,” according to Jepsen.
Heroin contributed to 306 deaths in Connecticut last year, he said, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has noted that heroin use is particularly high in New England.
“I have serious concerns that the steep price increase, occurring in the midst of significant budget constraints that the state is currently encountering, may very well negatively impact state and municipal first responders’ efforts to utilize Naloxone at the very time when it is needed the most,” Jepsen said in a statement.
“To date, I have yet to see any public justification from Amphastar for these increases. In the face of a public health crisis, and at a crucial time in our battle to save lives that may be lost to the scourge of opioid abuse and addiction, these price increases will undoubtedly make our efforts to save lives much more difficult,” he wrote in the letter.
Connecticut is not the first state to push back regarding the drug’s price increase. State officials in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York are among those who have asked Amphastar to reconsider its pricing over the past year or so.
In his letter, Jepsen asks to speak with the Amphastar CEO or one of his representatives about how they can address his concerns.