Calling Out Big Pharma for Trying to Profit Off the Opioid Crisis Actually Worked

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin (AP Photo)

A Big Pharma company is lowering the price of its opioid overdose drug after getting dragged through the mud by a pair of senators.

According to the Dayton Daily News, the pharmaceutical company kaléo announced Wednesday that it plans to roll out a generic version of its Naloxone auto-injector, with this version costing $178 per carton after the company had spiked the price by more than 600 percent. Now the company will make the generic version available around summer 2019, the News reported. The pricing on the drug will be the same for Medicare patients as well as those buying it through public access routes.

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The move from the company was not the product of a sudden realization that helping people in the grips of addiction is actually good. The price change comes only after Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, and Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, lit their asses up in the Senate.

On Nov. 18, Carper and Portman, who chair the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, published an investigative report that was the centerpiece of a 60 Minutes episode. The report unsurprisingly found that the rapid price hikes on the company’s naloxone drug EVZIO were driven by the company trying to rake in more cash; they hired Todd Smith, a consultant who’s worked with other Big Pharma companies on similar pricing hiking tactics to implement his model. Per the report, kaléo increased the price of EVZIO from $575 to $4,100 in less than four years.

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The majority of the increase in revenue came from Medicare and Medicaid patients—as the company poured money into having doctors declare EVZIO as “medically necessary,” this required the government healthcare programs to pay whatever price kaléo decided to set. Portman and Carper wrote that the unnecessary price hike cost citizens $142 million in just four years.

The opioid crisis hasn’t slowed in either of the states represented by Portman and Carper. In Ohio, 3,431 of the 4,854 drug-related deaths in 2017 were the result of fentanyl, an increase because of the drug being mixed into cocaine and methamphetamine. In Delaware, 210 of the 348 people that died from overdoses were killed by fentanyl, per WDEL. (A reminder that Ohio’s population is over 10 times that of Delaware’s.)

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With the opioid crisis only deepening around the country—and with soulless pharmaceutical companies gatekeeping these drugs—Wednesday’s announcement by kaléo should serve as an important reminder that calling out assholes for being assholes can still work, especially if you happen to be a sitting U.S. senator.

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