- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Senate President Stan Rosenberg says Massachusetts should use its purchasing muscle to help ensure that a key drug used to reverse heroin overdoses remains affordable as the state attempts to curb a spike in drug-related deaths.

Rosenberg said Monday that he’s concerned about what he called the drastic increase in the price of naloxone - also marketed under the brand name Narcan. He said the drug is needed more than ever.

“At a time when opioid-related overdoses and deaths have increased in each of the last 5 years, now is not the time for manufacturers to curtail access by more than doubling costs to our local first responders,” Rosenberg said Monday. “The state can and should play a more active role in leveraging its purchasing power to level the playing field with manufacturers.”

Attorney General Maura Healey has warned that a spike in the cost of the drug is making it difficult to keep first responders stocked with the lifesaving remedy.

“I’m just going to be aggressive to make sure that nobody is out there unnecessarily profiteering from a public health crisis,” Healey said earlier this year.

Jason Shandell, president of California-based Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, which produces naloxone, told the Associated Press at the time that prices have increased because of rising costs of raw materials, energy and labor.

In a deal with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the company has agreed to offer a $6 rebate per dose for the next year for naloxone. The deal calls for the rebate to automatically increase to match any growth in the wholesale price.

Shandell said he was ready to make a similar offer to Massachusetts.

“I am confident that we can assist the state of MA in a similar (way) that we did with New York as we are committed to public safety and assisting the government where we can,” he wrote in an email to the AP in February.

The overdose epidemic shows no signs of slowing down.

Massachusetts state police have reported 217 suspected heroin overdose deaths during the first three months of 2015, a figure that doesn’t even include the state’s three largest cities, Boston, Worcester and Springfield, meaning the total was almost certainly higher.

State health officials say there were 978 unintentional opioid overdose deaths statewide in Massachusetts in 2013, the last year for which complete statistics were available. That was a 46 percent increase over the previous year and about three times as many as in 2000.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has created a 17-member task force to address the state’s heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis, which he has called a public health emergency.

Rosenberg said he looks forward to working with Healey.

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