WASHINGTON — A drug manufacturer that produces a life–saving opioid overdose drug will reduce the price of that drug after two senators — one from Ohio — complained that the company was gouging customers.

Sen. Rob Portman, R–Ohio, and Sen. Tom Carper, D–Delaware, found in a Nov. 18 report that drug manufacturer kaléo increased the price of its naloxone drug Evzio by more than 600 percent by 2016, jacking up the drug from its initial price of $575 per unit in July 2014 to $3,750 in February 2016, then finally to $4,100 in January 2017.

On Wednesday, weeks after news media including 60 Minutes reported on the findings of the senators’ report, kaléo announced it would reduce the price of its naloxone auto–injector to $178. The product delivers naloxone in order to revive those who have overdosed on opioids.

In a release highlighting the announcement, Portman called it “a positive step forward.”

“I’m hopeful that it will increase access to naloxone, a critically–important overdose reversal drug that has saved tens of thousands of lives,” he said. He and Carper are the chair and ranking member of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

The subcommittee found in their November 2018 report that the company had launched a new distribution model that hoped to “capitalize on the opportunity” of “opioid overdose at epidemic levels.”

Company salesmen and women focused on ensuring doctors’ offices signed necessary paperwork indicating that Evzio was medically necessary which meant the drug would be covered by government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

That plan worked. Taxpayers footed more than $142 million for the drug in just the last four years, the report found, despite the fact that less costly versions of naloxone exist.

The synthetic opioid drug fentanyl killed 3,431 people in Ohio last year.

jwehrman@dispatch.com

@jessicawehrman