The Price of Life: Are Human Lives Worth less than Profit to Big Pharma?


I am beside myself this week with news that Amphastar, one of the major producers of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, has been raising prices of the life-saving medication as its use has increased. Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform met to discuss the growing opioid epidemic in the United States and, while discussing possible state- and institution-level interventions, the pharmaceutical company’s overall 100% price increase came up.

Narcan, Amphastar’s commercial name for their brand of the well-known medication naloxone, is needed now in our country like never before. Nearly 80 Americans die every day due to opioid-related overdoses, and the use of Narcan and similar overdose-reversing drugs, is a crucial lifesaving tool available to first responders. There is no question in the minds of policy makers or health professionals that Narcan saves lives that would otherwise be lost.

With this level of efficacy known, how can all emergency service and substance abuse treatment professionals be anything other than outraged that a tool to save lives is being used as a crude ploy to increase revenue? Public service members throughout the state of Massachusetts noticed a steep increase in the price of naloxone, almost doubling in cost, from spring 2014 to just a year later in early 2015. Some public health officials and advocates claim that this price increase occurred as a result of former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s declaration of a public health emergency in response to the overwhelming amount of opioid abuse and number of overdoses in the state.

That Amphastar has increased the price of Narcan, seemingly as a step toward profiteering and not due to changes to production cost, is nothing short of criminal. Instead of praising companies like Amphastar for their business acumen, they should be shamed for their façade of helplessness in the face of a growing national health crisis.

If we expect justice on this issue, we must pursue it tirelessly and of our own accord. Massachusetts State Attorney General Maura Healey has demanded that Amphastar answer for the recent steep increases in price, but anyone who has witnessed the trials of big pharmaceutical companies within the criminal justice system should know not to expect any upsets. Pharma generally wins or pays a fine and goes on with business as usual.

What is the value of a human life and what is a fair profit for companies to make? Answers to those questions will be debated, but one thing is clear — we must stop companies like Amphastar from answering for us that a human life may not be worth the artificially high price of a single dose of medicine.