As cost of lifesaving drug jumps, can lawmakers intervene?

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Sen. Patty Murray (GETTY IMAGES)

SEATTLE — When the Epipen price hike made headlines, Congress demanded a hearing with pharmaceutical company Mylan to figure out why the costs soared.

Now, some lawmakers are demanding answers from ‘Big Pharma’ about the cost of naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote- sometimes called by one of its brand names, NARCAN.

There are five manufacturers who make naloxone. As the heroin epidemic grows, more local agencies, law enforcement, and every day people are carrying naloxone to save lives.

But the new push could have an adverse effect.

“That has encouraged governments to fund programs, fire departments, police departments, first responders and so the demand for naloxone has really skyrocketed over the last two or three years,” aid Washington Policy Center Healthcare Policy Analyst retired physician Dr. Roger Stark. “And, again, it’s a market function where we have demand increasing and a supply that’s fairly limited by only five manufacturers.”

Watch Above: A former user talks about how Naloxone saved his life 

Nearly all of the manufacturers are guilty of dramatically raising the price of the life-saving drug. The most notable recent spike comes from a company called Kaleo. It produces the auto-injector named Evzio. A two-pack in 2014 cost $690.

Today, it costs $4,500.

“It makes no sense on its face and we need them to provide that feedback,” said State Rep. Suzan DelBene.

Lawmakers like Washington Representative Suzan DelBene sent a letter to Kaleo arguing its taking advantage of the nation’s growing opioid epidemic.

“It was able to be offered earlier at a lower price," DelBene said. "It can’t just be about the costs of the development of the product.”

In Early May, Senator Patty Murray requested a pharmaceutical drug hearing about rising costs.

“Ensuring generic manufacturers have access to brand name drugs to increase competition and bringing price transparency to the market,” said Senator Patty Murray.

Look: Letter from Senator Patty Murray.

Besides writing letters and holding hearings, Washington Policy Center Healthcare Policy Analyst retired physician Dr. Roger Stark says there’s little Congress can actually do to spark cost drops for naloxone or any other drug.

“We have to leave it up to the market to figure out what pricing should be,” said Dr. Stark.

It’s a marketplace with only five manufacturers of naloxone who control the price. Kaleo responded to an email from Q13 News asking about the price hike and for the company’s response to the congressional letter demanding answers.  Here’s what Kaleo's CEO Spencer Williamson wrote in response:

“We received the letters from the Congressmen and Senators and are in communication with them to ensure all questions are addressed. Our first priority remains ensuring that patients can access EVZIO. Under our access program more than 200 million Americans with commercial insurance and a prescription, and patients who do not have government or commercial insurance, and have a household income of less than $100,000, can receive EVZIO for $0 out-of-pocket. For those paying cash, the price is $360. No naloxone product, branded or even generic, is less expensive for commercially insured patients, or patients without insurance and incomes below $100,000 a year, than EVZIO.

EVZIO was designed for use by those without medical training, as most life-threatening opioid emergencies occur in the home and are witnessed by friends or family who may be in the best position to intervene quickly with naloxone. Although EVZIO was built to be prescribed by physicians, rather than sold to bulk purchasers, we recognize the need of first responders, health departments and nonprofits to address the opioid epidemic. For those organizations, we developed the kaléo Cares Product Donation program, which continues to provide EVZIO free of charge. To date, we have donated nearly 200,000 naloxone auto-injectors to public health departments, first responders and non-profits serving patients in need. We plan to donate 100,000 more auto-injectors in 2017.”

Look: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene's Letter