Drug overdose is the current leading cause of accidental death in the United States and experts attribute this largely to the nation’s growing dependence on opioids. Of the 54,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015, 20,101 were due to prescription painkillers and 12,990 were caused by heroine. It’s an ongoing problem that the medical community is constantly battling. And now, one of the main drugs used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose has jumped 600% in price!

Kaleo hikes the price of EVZIO to $4,500

Naloxone (Narcan) is a medication that helps to block the effects of opioids, especially during an overdose. In the event of an emergency, the drug can be administered by means of an auto-injector. This can temporarily reverse the effects of opioids and keep a patient breathing until they can be tended to by emergency professionals. One of the more popular products on the market for performing this function is EVZIO, an auto-injector that comes with voice and visual guidance designed to help caretakers take fast action in administering naloxone in the event of an overdose. Until recently, the cost of an EVZIO kit was $690 but Kaleo, the makers behind the product, have recently announced that they have hiked the price to $4,500.

While EVZIO is not the only auto-injector for naloxone on the market, the product has been highly preferred by medical professionals and caretakers for its ability to quickly guide them through how to use it. When it comes to saving someone’s life in the event of an overdose, time is of the essence. And per the company’s official website, “lack of oxygen from an opioid emergency may lead to severe and permanent brain damage in as little as 4 minutes, yet the average EMS response time is 9.4 minutes.” Kaleo’s smart auto-injector provides step-by-step voice instructions to an administrator and even reminds users to dial 911 to report an overdose.

Kaleo accounted for an estimated 20% of naloxone dispensed through retail outlets between 2015 and 2016.

The senate questions Kaleo’s decision

On February 8th, 31 US senators sent a letter to Kaleo Pharmaceuticals to complain about the drastic price increase. The company is standing behind their decision, however, noting that more than 200 million America with commercial insurance can obtain EVZIO for a $0 copay and that the cash price for the uninsured is $360. But EVZIO’s list price of $4,500 is 640% higher than the list price of EpiPen, which made the news this year for its $600 sticker price. And the product is difficult for many Americans to afford.

An epidemic of opioid abuse

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal narcotic heroin, as well as powerful pain relievers (available legally by prescription), such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. These drugs are used to help calm the nervous system as a means of temporarily relieving pain. In low doses and for limited periods of time, opioids can be safe mediums for providing pain relief. But prolonged use has led to drug dependence. Trying to quit a drug like oxycodone can cause withdrawal symptoms and people may have a hard time stopping use of the drug, even if they want to. Part of the reason for the epidemic is that opioids provide a powerful high when injected or taken in high doses.

Statistics on opioid abuse

• It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide

• Opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record.

• The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid.

• Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report

• Opioid medications can produce a sense of well-being and pleasure because these drugs affect brain regions involved in reward. People who abuse opioids may seek to intensify their experience by taking the drug in ways other than those prescribed.

• Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. 8