White House officials met with pharmaceutical company representatives Tuesday in an effort to address long-standing concerns about the affordability of overdose-reversal drugs that the Biden administration views as crucial to saving lives amid the nation’s opioid crisis. The meeting was held with 10 companies, including Emergent BioSolutions, which this summer will start selling without a prescription an overdose-reversal drug called naloxone. Critics have slammed Emergent for plans to price the nasal spray, sold under the brand name Narcan, at “less than $50” per two-dose kit, which they say is too expensive for many people, let alone those who regularly use drugs, the Washington Post reports. The director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Rahul Gupta, said he made clear to industry representatives that he was not dictating how companies should approach their price negotiations.
“I reminded them that today, price is a key factor in whether people can access these products, especially when they can range from $10 co-pays to over $100 or more for people walking into a pharmacy without insurance,” Gupta said. He said he emphasized making reversal drugs widely available in communities devastated by the opioid crisis, particularly rural spots where the medication is harder to locate. While applauding the White House’s efforts, experts cautioned that the summit would not lead drug manufacturers to lower prices dramatically, especially when so many other factors affect prices, including the costs of manufacturing nasal sprays and health insurance coverage. With the nation’s drug crisis killing more than 100,000 people annually, the Biden administration has made expanding access to naloxone part of its national strategy for reversing rising deaths. Naloxone — which is safe to use even when someone is not overdosing — typically restores breathing in several minutes, although it’s not unusual for rescuers to use multiple doses. The FDA could eventually approve generic over-the-counter nasal sprays, but even then, it takes many months for products to be scaled up and delivered to store shelves.