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The pharmaceutical company that makes the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, often known as Narcan, will pay more than $300,000 into a new state trust fund to help make the medication more affordable to Massachusetts cities and towns, Attorney General Maura Healey announced Monday.
Healey said her office reached an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals that requires the company to pay the state $325,000 -- roughly the cost of 10,000 doses of Narcan — to help offset the cost of the drug, which has risen from about $22 per dose in March 2014 to reports of first responders paying as much as $65 for one dose.
"For every fatal overdose in the state we know there have been countless more overdoses. We know that many of those overdoses have not resulted in fatalities because of a life-saving medication called Narcan," Healey said. "We know this drug is important. We know it saves lives by reversing overdoses in an instant and bringing those people back from the brink of death."
Opioid overdoses killed an estimated 1,256 people in Massachusetts in 2014, up from 939 in 2013, according to a Department of Public Health report that measures confirmed and probable cases of opioid-related deaths.
Since last August, police officers and firefighters in Worcester have saved 129 lives using Narcan, and other communities have reported similar numbers, Healey said. Statewide, she said, first responders administered 11,000 doses of Narcan last year.
The first-of-its-kind payment will be deposited into the state's new Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund, which was established with initial state funding of $150,000 as part of the budget process the Legislature concluded in July, Healey said.
"Thank you for taking the little seed that we planted and turning it into a big garden, because you tripled the amount of money that the Legislature put on the table and brought us close to half a million dollars," Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said to Healey at a press conference announcing the agreement. "We've lost too many young people who had such great promise and to know that we now have this medication and will have it more available means that we can save more lives."
The fund will be administered by DPH, which will purchase Narcan in bulk at a wholesale price of roughly $33 per dose, Healey said. Cities and towns will be able to take advantage of the state's bulk purchase by buying Narcan directly from DPH.
"Narcan is a life saver. There is just nothing more basic than that," said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who chaired an opioid task force formed earlier this year by Gov. Charlie Baker. "It allows our first responders to completely reverse a death, an opioid death, a heroin death, and to get someone to treatment."
Jeanne Flynn, a Bourne resident, said she saw the life-saving power of Narcan for herself a few years ago when she used it on her son, Brian, who died of a heroin overdose this spring.
"While he wasn't as fortunate this time around, in May, I was at least able to see the results, that it did work well, it did work quickly and it still gave him an opportunity to have a life," Flynn said. "Every life you save is the possibility of something that could turn, in recovery, into something of a shining star."
Healey said her office became very interested in the issue of Narcan affordability "as a consumer issue, as a public health issue" as the price of the drug steeply rose at the time it was needed most.
Soon after then-Gov. Deval Patrick made regulatory changes in March 2014 to allow first responders to carry and use Narcan, Amphastar raised its prices, the attorney general's office said.
In February, Healey's office sent a letter to Amphastar Pharmaceuticals asking to discuss ways the company might be able to keep down the cost of the life-saving Narcan.
"Since June of 2014, reports indicate that the cost of the medication has increased 111 percent, from $19.56 to $41.43 for a 2 milliliter dose," First Assistant Attorney General Chris Barry-Smith wrote in the letter. "These increases have strained access to this life-saving medication at exactly the moment when it is most needed. My office has heard regularly from local law enforcement and public health workers worried about their ability to maintain supplies."
Amphastar did not respond Monday to a request for comment from the News Service.
Earlier this year, the attorneys general of New York, New Jersey and Ohio each reached an agreement with Amphastar to cut and then cap the price of the drug for state agencies, municipalities and drug treatment centers.
The agreement secured for Massachusetts, Healey said, is better than that deal.
"I think that this is the absolute best agreement that you could hope for and want because what it does is it cuts through the red tape, it cuts through the middle men, it establishes a bulk purchasing arrangement so now cities and towns will be able to access [Narcan] directly through the state Department of Public Health," she said. "It doesn't require extra paperwork, submit receipts so you get a rebate after the fact."
Tackling the state's opioid epidemic has been atop Healey's priority list since she won the attorney general's office in her maiden political campaign.
Earlier this month, Healey and House Judiciary Chairman John Fernandes filed a bill that would allow prosecutors to charge people in possession of more than 10 grams of fentanyl — a synthetic opioid often used to give heroin a boost in potency — with the more serious crime of trafficking, carrying a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.