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Drug maker puts $4,500 price tag on life-saving device used in SF

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An auto-injector trainer of Naloxone (Narcan), which is used in the event of an opiate overdose. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

What is known in drug culture as the coolest device for saving a life is even less affordable for needle exchange programs to distribute in San Francisco after the manufacturer hiked prices for the product.

The Naloxone auto-injectors have made it more convenient to reverse heroin or prescription opioid overdoses in San Francisco since a Virginia-based manufacturer rolled them out three years ago.

But the manufacturer, called Kaleo, has reportedly raised the price of a two-pack of the devices from $650 in 2014 to $4,500 at present.

“It’s the preferred option for many people because it’s really cool, it talks to you, you can just slap it on your pants,”said Phillip Coffin, a director with the Department of Public Health. “It’s just not priced so that anyone could ever by it.”

Coffin said DPH has never been able to afford the devices — even in 2014 — and has instead relied on donations from the manufacturer.

Needle exchange programs have distributed the devices to those who prefer the device over Naloxone syringes or nasal sprays since at least 2015.

The drug has helped to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in San Francisco from a peak of about 180 in the 1990s to 96 in 2015.

According to Kaleo, the manufacturer, the auto-injector devices it calls Evzio are available to individuals at a free or reduced cost depending on insurance coverage and income levels.

“Evzio was built to be prescribed by physicians, rather than sold to bulk purchasers,” Mark Herzog, Kaleo’s vice president of corporate affairs, said in a statement.

Herzog noted that the company has donated 200,000 auto-injectors to public health departments, first responders and nonprofits.

DPH began to distribute Naloxone at needle exchanges through a collaboration with the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Project in 2003. Since then, the price of Naloxone — also known by the brand name Narcan — has gone up from $1.50 to $20 a dose, according to Coffin.

“The most important issue is having low price naloxone available for distribution programs that are giving them out for free,” Coffin said.

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