Giving naloxone overdose antidote to first responders will save lives and give addicts another chance to seek help.

Share story

The nation’s opioid epidemic has no real cure, but law-enforcement officers and other first responders are saving lives when they carry the overdose antidote, naloxone.

Earlier this month, leaders of the Seattle Police and the King County Sheriff’s Office announced they would equip their officers with the powerful medicine, designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose.

An injector or nose spray can give addicts a chance to survive an accidental overdose, get help, detox and, hopefully, find a way to start over in life.

In 2016, 118 people died from heroin overdoses in King County alone. Overdoses are Washington state’s leading cause of accidental deaths. Naloxone in the hands of law-enforcement officers might have prevented some of those deaths.

Two years ago, Seattle Police bike officers began a pilot program to carry naloxone. Those officers reversed two dozen potentially deadly overdoses. A donation from the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) is enabling the department to expand its program to patrol officers. Since June 2015, PAARI has initiated law-enforcement naloxone programs in 32 states and is credited with helping lead 12,000 people into treatment.

“We want to save lives,” said Interim Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, in announcing
the expansion of the naloxone program. As for combating the opioid epidemic, “there is still so much to do,” Best said.

By this summer, King County pledges to get naloxone into the hands of its deputies and detectives.

In the U.S. Surgeon General’s first national public-health advisory in 13 years, Dr. Jerome Adams earlier this month asked Americans — friends and family members of addicts — to keep naloxone on hand. That’s another sensible idea, with its own challenge: Increased demand for this overdose antidote has emboldened drug manufacturers to jack up prices.

A dose of naloxone went for about a dollar 15 years ago, because the medicine’s patent had expired. But old patents become irrelevant when drug manufacturers create new delivery systems for old drugs. In this case, Kaleo Pharmaceuticals made a simple-to-use auto-injection version of naloxone, which was sold for $690 for two doses in 2014, but now retails for about $3,800.

Most law-enforcement officers are equipped with a much less expensive Narcan nose spray, which can be purchased in bulk by first responders for less than $40 a dose. The general public pays about $125 for two doses of the nose spray, since few can afford Kaleo’s easier-to-use injection version.

Kaleo has given free samples to first responders, but price gouging on lifesaving medicines must stop. If companies don’t voluntarily keep prices stable when demand increases, the state should force them to, as Maryland has done to save lives.