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Health, Science & Environment

Affordable Naloxone Shortage Has Some Harm Reduction Organizations Looking At Distribution Efforts

A photo of Naloxone dosage vials.
Ivana Martinez
/
KUER
Activists said it’s not that Naloxone isn’t available, the Pfizer chain supply disruption has shown a major problem in the industry — that it isn't affordable.

As a shortage of affordable naloxone kits occurs nationwide, it’s prompted some Utah harm reduction organizations to look at their distribution efforts.

Naloxone is a drug that helps reverse opioid overdoses. Pfizer, one of the manufacturers of the drug, has offered it to harm reduction organizations at a discounted price for years. In April, Pfizer announced its single and multi-dose supplies were depleted.

Dr. Jennifer Plumb, medical director of Utah Naloxone, said they’ve purchased the kits at an extremely low cost though the average out-of-pocket cost for the drug was more than $30.

Plumb said the Pfizer supply disruption has shown weaknesses in the system.

“It's not that naloxone is not available, it's that I don't have the resources [to buy it],” she said. “No one has the resources to pay that kind of money for it.”

Utah Naloxone provides kits to various other organizations around the state, ranging from recovery centers to libraries. In the last six months they have been able to provide more than 9,500 kits to syringe service partners.

But Plumb has had to scale back her distribution supply by half.

“I'm a firm believer that this stuff should be everywhere with everyone,” she said. “We have to try to prioritize [and] that's really challenging. How do you say one spot is less valuable than another spot? It starts to sound like one life is less valuable than another life. And I'm really not comfortable with that.”

A photo of Dr. Jennifer Plumb.
Ivana Martinez
Dr. Jennifer Plumb, medical director of Utah Naloxone said the Pfizer supply disruption has prompted bigger conversations about affordability.

Other organizations like Odyssey House and Utah Harm Reduction Coalition rely heavily on these kits, the majority which they access through Utah Naloxone.

Mindy Vincent, founder of Utah Harm Reduction Coalition, said they typically receive around 300 kits per month from Utah Naloxone, but now it’s at 150. With the shortage, Vincent said they’re thinking critically about how to distribute them.

Amy Daeschel, an outreach specialist for Odyssey House, a nonprofit organization that aims to help with addiction recovery, said she was saved by naloxone.

“If that disruption happened and it affected me when I was out in my use, we might not be having this conversation,” Daeschel said. “The importance of [having access to] it is just undisputable.”

She distributes the kits at outreach events and at prison releases every Tuesday of each month. She said the lack of kits could increase overdose deaths.

“Because of that distribution disruption, it could be detrimental to our population not being able to have access to affordable naloxone,” she said. “We'd see a lot of lives lost.” 

The shortage of affordable naloxone comes as the nation sees an increase in opioid-related deaths. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from January 2020-2021 Utah saw a nearly 12% jump in drug overdose related deaths. Nationwide, there was a 30.5% increase.

Plumb said while she’s limiting kits, she won’t let people who need them go without them.

“I keep telling people, believe me, I won’t let Utah run out of Naloxone,” she said. “We’ll have a fire sale of everything we have before we would ever let that happen.”

Plumb said she has enough kits to last until February, that’s when Pfizer is anticipated to return to its regular supply levels.

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