By Sandhya Raman
Baltimore is making a first-of-its-kind request that the Trump administration use its existing authority to lower the cost of opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone in order to provide it to health care workers and law enforcement.
In a letter sent Thursday to Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, the Baltimore City Health Department and Public Citizen outline ways to make the drug more affordable. Other cities may follow suit.
“Specifically, we ask that the Administration procure naloxone treatments and supply them to local health and law enforcement programs or authorize such programs to procure generic versions of patented naloxone treatments,” the letter reads.
Additionally, the authors ask the administration to “authorize use of any and all patents necessary to allow for the production of generic naloxone treatments and delivery systems to respond to the opioid epidemic.”
Government use authority, according to the groups, would allow the federal government to purchase generic versions of on-patent medicines. While naloxone is generic, Narcan, an easy-to-use form of naloxone that is often available as a nose spray, is under a patent until 2035.
Leana Wen, health commissioner for the Baltimore City Health Department, said at a press conference that the city is currently forced to ration naloxone because it doesn't have the resources to purchase enough of this drug.
“The problem that we have in Baltimore is not the policy. It’s the price,” said Wen.
Currently the Baltimore City Health Department pays $75 per kit for Narcan, Wen said. The cost for the city to provide a kit to every resident would be $46.5 million, or about one-third of the department’s entire budget.
Wen issued a blanket prescription to the city in October of 2015 for individuals to purchase naloxone using their own insurance, but she doesn’t see that as the ultimate solution.
“You are carrying naloxone to save someone else’s life,” she said, drawing a comparison to asking a fireman to buy his own firehose.
The city’s representative in Congress supports the request to the government.
“I commend the Baltimore Health Department and Public Citizen for working to combat the skyrocketing price of naloxone,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., in a statement. “The President’s own Opioid Commission recommended that the Trump Administration negotiate directly with drug companies to lower these prices, but President Trump has ignored this recommendation for the better part of a year while communities like Baltimore are forced to ration their supplies."