Amphastar pays some rebates after price of overdose drug doubles

Police and public safety departments around the country have been stocking up on naloxone from Amphastar Pharmaceuticals ($AMPH) and other makers as a way to fight heroin and painkiller overdoses. But with prices for the drug doubling in the last year, some are accusing the small California company of overpricing the overdose drug and are asking for some of their money back.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has asked Amphastar to repay police departments and other agencies $6 a dose. He said the price of the drug had risen to $28.50 in October, from as low as $12.78 in 2013. According to his statement, agencies administered more than 10,500 doses in 2012. Amphastar makes an injected form of the drug. It does not make a nasal spray version.

"Without warning, Amphastar chose to dramatically increase its naloxone prices," DeWine said in a letter to Amphastar CEO Jack Zhang. "This decision will make efforts to save lives much more difficult."

In an emailed statement today, Amphastar CFO Bill Peters said, the company's price for naloxone was less than competitors. 

"Indeed, our price for naloxone after the increase is still the lowest among similar products in the United States. The fact that we have the lowest naloxone price is all the more remarkable because it is sold in a pre-filled syringe associated with a higher manufacturing cost. On average, the price of naloxone in the U.S. market (in vial form) is $37.23 per milligram, or 226% of the price of Amphastar's naloxone (in a prefilled syringe) when considering the price per milligram of naloxone. With all of this in mind, I am confident that we can assist Ohio in a similar way that we did with New York as we are committed to public safety."

In making his request, DeWine pointed to $6-per-dose rebate that Amphastar this month agreed to pay back to New York, an agreement that also protects the state against wholesale price increases for a year. According to The New York Times, that rebate was sought after police departments in the state, as well as across the country, began complaining that price increases were limiting their ability to save lives. In Georgia, for one, the price rose from about $20 a dose to $35 to $40 a dose. Health officials in Baltimore have been handing out kits containing naloxone to relatives and friends of people where there were concerns of overdoses but has had to limit that to 2,000 from 3,600 in the face of price increases.

The company, which went public last year, reported 9-month revenues of about $155 million and an operating loss of nearly $11 million for three quarters. It did not break out sales of naloxone in its last filing but said the drug was having "increased sales."

Amphastar is not the only company to be caught in the cross-hairs of public sentiment for raising prices of the overdose drug. The Clinton Foundation last month said it had negotiated a discount with Kaléo for the naloxone autoinjector it makes. Rain Henderson, CEO of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, wouldn't name the price but told the Times it would make it available to any institution that can distribute it widely. The foundation has approached other naloxone makers but Kaléo was the first to respond.

"These are lifesaving devices, like defibrillators," Henderson said. "They should be available to everyone, but that's not happening because of the cost."

- here's the Ohio AG's press release
- get more from The New York Times (sub. req.)