As number of overdoses rise in Tennessee, so does cost of opioid antidote

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Dr. Corey Slovis has a close understanding of the war on opiates and heroin.

He has watched as heroin and opiate abuse continue to increase in Middle Tennessee as the Medical Director of the Nashville Fire Department and Chairman of Vanderbilt University’s Emergency Medical Department.

“We have really gone from a ‘no heroin’ city to a city that is being inundated with cheap narcotics that can be injected,” he said. “Usually it is heroin we are seeing and some heroin with fentanyl.”

In 2015 there were 1,451 overdose deaths in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

That is compared to 1,263 overdose deaths in 2014.

Dr. Corey Slovis (Photo: WKRN)
Dr. Corey Slovis (Photo: WKRN)

Naloxone is a powerful medication that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose within a few seconds or minutes.

“Every person is different because our body metabolizes things differently,” Nashville Paramedic Matt Tidwell said. “It can affect people in as little as 30 seconds or it can take five minutes or more.”

The other issue is people being upfront about what substances someone who is overdosing has taken.

“It saves us a lot of time in diagnostics and testing for other things,” Tidwell explained. “If we know up front someone overdosed on something or may have overdosed on something we can go straight to that.”

According to the Nashville Fire Department, Naloxone has gone from rare usage to being carried on every ambulance.

It’s being administered on a daily basis.

“In an increasing amount, we are averaging about 1,000 doses a year,” Dr. Slovis said. “But it is unclear what that number is really going to be as we move through this next year.”

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

He continued, “The amount of heroin coming through Nashville now is growing exponentially.”

The fire department says it spent a little more than $17,000 on Naloxone uses in the last six months of 2016.

That amounts to about 570 doses at a cost of about $30 per use. It also includes patients who received more than one dose of the life-saving drug.

“The problem is now how much the drug costs,” Dr. Slovis said. “That is a whole other epidemic of drug charges for drugs that have been around, drugs that are off patent, and drugs that should be generic and very cheap.”

Dr. Slovis said as recently as five to seven years ago, a dose of Naloxone would cost Metro Nashville about $1.50 to purchase. Now the cost is $30.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

If you are a member of the public, not a municipality or law enforcement, a two dose box of the Naloxone can cost upwards of $130.

“I think there are some drug companies that are driven more by profit than service, and their needs to be a balance of the two,” Dr. Slovis said. “Naloxone has been around for more than 30 years. Why is it more and more expensive?”

The amount of Naloxone purchased by Nashville’s Fire Department of paramedics to carry is expected to grow in 2017.

Dr. Slovis said smaller communities and more rural communities will feel the impact sooner than Metro Nashville, because they have smaller budgets but a higher instance of opiate abuse.

In fact, in June top ranking senators sent a letter to five pharmaceutical companies who manufacture Naloxone addressing an increase in the price of the drug.

The Tennessee Department of Health has more information about Naloxone and overdoses in Tennessee on its website. Click here to read more.

Click here for more on the opioid crisis in Tennessee.