Naloxone has earned a reputation as a life-saving drug, pulling victims of heroin and opioid painkiller overdoses back from the brink of death. The drug is so effective that even non-medical organizations, such as police departments, needle-exchange programs and community groups, keep it on hand to administer it quickly to those who need it. However, Naloxone has a dark side. One that includes a link to new heroin addictions and a skyrocketing cost for the drug’s life saving abilities.
Pain Killers Spur Increase in Heroin Addictions
Drug addictions occur for a variety of reasons, from curious experimentation to an attempt to relive pain. It is this last reason that is most concerning. According to The New Republic, the largest cause of new heroin addictions is doctor-prescribed pills. More alarming, four out of five heroin addicts claim that they became addicted to prescription drugs before they took heroin. Robert Dupont, Drug Czar under Presidents Nixon and Ford, sums up the problem this way, “We seeded the population with opiates. What started as an OxyContin and prescription-drug addiction problem in Vermont has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis.”
Dupont’s research shows a dramatic resurgence in heroin addiction. In the late 60’s, he states that most heroin addicts in Washington D.C. were young males with criminal histories. By the 70’s, the addicts had expanded to include Vietnam vets who become addicted while overseas. By 1992, a typical methadone recovery meeting consisted mostly of these two aging groups.
However, the number of new heroin cases began to surge in 2000, around the same time that the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation announced that patients were suffering needlessly from pain and that physicians were under treating them. Physicians and prescription drug manufacturers responded in droves, dispensing opiates to take away all discomfort. As a result, heroin is no longer constrained to inner city criminals. It has spread to the suburbs and the middle class.
The Naloxone Irony
The lifesaving benefits of Naloxone are undeniable. And, though some heroin addicts may see it as an ever-present life preserver, there is no evidence that the existence of the drug causes addicts to overdose more often. However, there is an irony in that the same drug manufacturing companies that accommodated the public’s desire for opiate-based pain relievers are the same ones supplying them with Naloxone now that they are heroin addicts. Another irony is that the price of Naloxone has begun to creep up rather dramatically.
Naloxone Rising Prices Cause Sticker Shock
As more and more cities and organizations purchase Naloxone, demand for the drug had risen. While higher demand typically leads to higher costs, the price increase in Naloxone is leaving many in wide-eyed shock. According to the New York Times, prices of Naloxone have recently risen by 50 percent or more. The Times also reports that police departments in Georgia have reported a price increase from $22 to $40. The dramatic increase surprises many like Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. Wexler states that, “There’s clearly something going on.” Another New York Advocacy group director noted that the price of Naloxone had been relatively stable for several years. “Then these big government programs come in and now all of a sudden we’re seeing a big price spike. The timing is pretty noticeable.”
In fact, Ocean County New Jersey Prosecutor Joseph Coronato is even asking the state to investigate Naloxone price increases as price gouging. “All we’re seeing here is pure greed. When you look at it, this is pure capitalism and taking advantage of a situation to make money where lives are being saved,” states Coronato.