Sen. Sanders joins Maryland rep for game of pricing hardball with Amphastar

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Amphastar ($AMPH) is facing a growing chorus of discontent over its overdose drug naloxone, with U.S. officials urging the company to bring down its high prices for the med. Last week, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland asked his state governor to play hardball with the company to negotiate a deal. Now, presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is joining the fray, teaming up with Cummings to pressure all state governments to combat rising naloxone prices.

Sanders, an outspoken healthcare reform advocate, and Cummings wrote the National Governors Association, National Lieutenant Governors Association and National Association of Attorneys General urging state officials to follow the lead of other states that have already put the heat on Amphastar. As the opioid overdose epidemic reaches new heights, public health officials and police officials should have access to the meds, Cummings and Sanders said in the letter. And the company's pricing is preventing this from happening.

"The opioid abuse epidemic is a public health emergency that must be addressed, and no company should jeopardize the progress many states have made in tackling this emergency by overcharging for a critically important drug like naloxone," the letter states.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings

The action comes on the heels of more pushback from lawmakers. Last week, Cummings wrote a letter to his state's governor saying that Maryland is being overcharged for naloxone. The drug's price shot up to $41 per dose in January 2015 from $19 per dose in June 2014, and price hikes are interfering with the state's ability to distribute the med, Cummings said in the letter.

The naloxone pricing fight ratcheted last year, when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Amphastar over rising naloxone prices; the company agreed to $6-per-dose rebates. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine followed suit in February, asking the company to repay $6 a dose after the drug's prices jumped to $28.50 in October 2014 from $12.78 in 2013.

In April, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin lambasted Amphastar for its naloxone prices, claiming the company boosted the price of the drug 62% over the period of one month. "As the demand has increased, as smart states like Vermont have said, 'We're not going to let folks who suffer from disease before our eyes because we don't have the courage to have the rescue kits available,' the company CEO has said, 'Great, how can we make some more money on this?'" Shumlin said at the time.

Still, Amphastar is standing by its pricing for naloxone, saying its injectable drug is less expensive than similar products on the market in the U.S. A vial of naloxone costs $37.23 per milligram on average, or 226% of the per-milligram price of Amphastar's prefilled syringe. And the company remains "committed to public safety," Amphastar CFO Bill Peters said earlier this year.

- read the letter (PDF)
- get more from The Hill

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