British Columbia

High price of naloxone nasal spray makes distribution of vital drug difficult

The cost of a new, easy to administer form of naloxone is challenging front-line professionals from widely distributing the life saving medicine in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where fentanyl overdose deaths continue to shake the community.

Professionals hope to curb high numbers of fentanyl overdoses with the nasal spray but fear it's too costly

The nasal spray version of naloxone was developed by Adapt Pharma, a Dublin-based company that markets the product under the brand name Narcan, and can cost from $60 to $120 per dose. (Adapt Pharma)

The cost of a new, easy to administer form of naloxone is challenging front-line professionals from widely distributing the life-saving medicine in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where fentanyl overdose deaths continue to shake the community.

Health groups and advocates across the country have been clamouring for naloxone to be widely available in order to prevent deaths, following a number of fatalities linked to street drugs containing the powerful opiate fentanyl.

Vera Horseman, nurse at the Portland Primary Care Clinic in Vancouver, trains drug users and front line workers on how to administer naloxone injections.

Having access to the medicine in the form of nasal spray could save more lives than the injectable form, because it requires less training and skill to administer, according to Vera Horsman, a nurse at the Portland Primary Care Clinic.

"It's so simple. Even for professionals like myself, you're panicking, it's a high intensity situation, your hands are shaking, it can be very difficult to draw up the dose."

"There's almost no difference in uptake and the comfort level for the people administering is so much different," she said.

Earlier this month Canada's health minister fast tracked approval of a new nasal spray version of the drug.

Previously the drug, which reverses the effects of opiate overdoses, has only been available in injectable form in Canada.

However, the cost of the spray can run as high as $125 per two doses, which is much more expensive than its injectable form that only costs about $5 to $20 per dose, according to Horsman.

"Once we start seeing generics on the market, once we start seeing wider distribution, hopefully that will bring the cost down," she said.

The cheaper and more widely distributed form of naloxone comes in an injection kit which Vera Horseman, nurse at the Portland Primary Care Clinic in Vancouver, hands out to the people she trains.

The move comes about four months after Health Canada de-listed the drug, making it available without a prescription, once individual provinces sign off.

Horsman leads training sessions for both drug users and front-line responders, but says many people turn down the kit offered at the end of the class because they don't feel that they could effectively perform the injection.

The nasal spray could allow the medicine to be used more widely in emergency situations, she says.

"We are still in the middle of this fentanyl overdose scare. We thought last summer was bad, and last year I believe we had 480 deaths [in B.C.], this year we're on track for approximately 700," said Horsman citing a report released by the BC Coroners Service.

"The more people we can get comfortable administering this, the more lives we're going to save."

With files from the CBC's The Early Edition

To hear the full interview listen to audio labelled Naloxone nasal spray cost stands in the way of saving lives