LA CROSSE, Wis. - Heroin is an epidemic across the country, and hundreds of lives have been saved locally thanks to the overdose reversal drug called naloxone. But now, the price of that drug and a device that delivers it has shot way up.
"We're using it every day,” said Nick Eastman, Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance operation supervisor.
Packs filled with naloxone, for reversing an opiate overdose, can be found in every ambulance at Gundersen Tri-state Ambulance.
"They've essentially overdosed and stopped breathing, sometimes they lose their pulse, so this medication is incredibly important,” Eastman said.
In 2015, Tri-State Ambulance administered 209 doses to 139 total patients. In 2016, respondents used 267 doses on 186 patients.
Along with the number of overdoses, Eastman said the price of a naloxone vial has also gone up.
"We're paying about $57 (for the standard dose),” he said. “At one point, those similar devices were in the $20 range."
That price increase worries some lawmakers such as Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D).
"It will cost lives, there's no question in my mind,” she said.
In particular, Baldwin is questioning a Kaleo Pharmaceuticals naloxone delivery device called Evzio, which has gone from $690 dollars for a two pack in 2014 to $4,500 today -- a big increase similar to what was seen with the Epipen last year.
"When a company has the sole market, it seems these days like they increase prices just because they can with no accountability, no transparency,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin and a group 31 other senators have written to Kaleo to get answers on the price hike.
Tri-State doesn't use the Kaleo device to administer naloxone. Instead, responders draw the drug themselves out of a vial or use pre-filled syringes.
"But I have seen auto injector devices in the community, and I've seen them work, so that can definitely have an impact on our community as well, for sure,” Eastman said.
Kaleo Pharmaceuticals does offer the naloxone device free of charge to patients with a household income of less than $100,000 dollars and who don't have government or commercial insurance.
However, Eastman worries the high price tag will keep people from ever attempting to get the naloxone device in the first place.
Despite rising costs of naloxone itself, Eastman said Tri-state will find a way to fit the life-saving drug into its budget.
"Based on our usage, we know that medication is something we have to carry no matter the cost,” he said.
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