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<p>Naloxone prices explode while medical professionals scramble to treat the fast-growing opioid addiction population.</p>

The Hidden Costs of an Epidemic

By Jonathan Springston, Associate Managing Editor, AHC Media

A recent analysis shows the price of naloxone, a drug that blocks opioid drugs from interacting with the brain's receptors, has increased from $0.92 per dose to $15 per dose over the past decade, a sign of naloxone’s high demand in the face of America’s opioid crisis.

Federal lawmakers and agencies recently have enacted a variety of measures aimed at reducing opioid dependence, including making naloxone, which instantly reverses opioid overdoses, more widely available. One estimate says that pharmacies, health departments, and substance treatment centers prevented more than 26,000 overdoses between 1996 and 2014 using naloxone. Yet, if prices continue climbing, naloxone may be more difficult for these organizations to obtain.

So are pharmaceuticals jacking up the price of naloxone because of all the new customers who need the drug, or is the naloxone price hike reflective of a larger trend? It depends on who you ask.

In June, lawmakers questioned the five pharmaceutical companies that produce naloxone about the reasons behind the price increase. Last year, the FDA said it’s not just the price of naloxone but all generic injectable medications that are on the rise. For their part, pharmaceutical companies contend that not only do current prices take into account market demand but also pay for the necessary investments to create all types of effective generic drugs.

Regardless, advocates have expressed a willingness to bring together all parties to make naloxone and affordable to community-based organizations that provide the life-saving drug to those in need.

Meanwhile, a study of privately insured patients reveals medical services, including office visits, lab tests, and other related treatments, for patients diagnosed with opioid addiction climbed 3,000% between 2007 and 2014, which researchers say provides more evidence that the opioid problem is indeed an epidemic.

In the September issue of Clinical Briefs in Primary Care, Louis Kuritzky, MD, explores a study of a large sample from a health insurance database (n = 649,851), from which the authors identified 2,067 cases of opioid abuse or dependence. From the issue:

Predictors for abuse or dependence include younger age, chronic opioid use, psychiatric history, abuse of nonopioid substances, alcohol abuse, smoking, use of high morphine doses, receiving prescriptions from more than one source or pharmacy, male gender, and South or Midwest residence.

Most of the risk factors for abuse/dependence identified through this database have been identified and used by earlier established risk screeners. Because this was a retrospective analysis, whether utilizing a risk stratification tool comprised of all 12 risk factors noted in this population would improve risk prediction remains to be determined.

In September, AHC Media will publish a compendium of much of our coverage of the opioid epidemic in 2016. Be sure to visit for updates.