Drug used to help overdose patients stretching budgets of first responders

Naloxone, sold under the brandname Narcan among others, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose. (Cutout Photo: PunchingJudy / CC BY 2.0)

Central Texas is not immune to the heroin epidemic sweeping the country. Thousands overdosed on opioids in the past year in Texas.

Now, a drug helping to revive those who do overdose is stretching the budgets of emergency responders.

"Miles would have been 26 this year," said Miles' mom Kelly Mcentee.

Miles Mcentee died at 25.

"I still expect to hear his skateboard coming down the street," said Mcentee. "But it is never going to."

Kelly said her son started on a downward spiral after a skateboard accident. He had two major surgeries, yet the pain persisted.

"He was prescribed pain medication through all of that," said Kelly.

But when the medication ran out and the pain didn't, heroin filled the gap. "It got to the point when it wasn't about the pain anymore," said Kelly.

Miles was addicted to heroin. Just months later, while at work, Kelly saw victim services walk through the door. "My heart sank," she said.

Miles overdosed on heroin. "It was horrible," said Kelly. "I was numb for the first 3 months. In a fog. Every day is hard."

Kelly says she carries with her both anger and guilt. She asks herself questions like: What could I have done? Is there anything that could have saved him?

The questions drove her online to Google searches and support chat rooms. "I heard about the drug naloxone," Kelly said.

It's a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. ERs and most emergency responders carry it. Just recently, it became available in drug stores.

"Things would have turned out differently? Maybe. We'll never know," said Kelly. "But, I do think about that."

But through her research, Kelly also learned about the cost of naloxone. The price for the drug is skyrocketing. Some versions have been reported to cost 17 times more than they cost two years ago

Austin-Travis County EMS spent nearly three times as much on the drug in 2015 as it did the year before.

ATCEMS Purchase History for Naloxone:

  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2012: $17,099.40
  • FY13: $16,273.76
  • FY14: $13,093.50
  • FY15: $37,175.25
  • FY16 (Oct 1,2015 – June 1,2016): $33,187.42

There are many variables contributing to the jump including quantities purchased, unit price and presentation.

ATCEMS used to purchase a multi-dose vial. Now, they've switched to prefilled syringes in order to save the department some money.

Still, as Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is needed more often and unit costs continue to rise, the money spent will ride too.

ATCEMS used the drug nearly 1,000 times in the last year and a half. That is one of the reasons that no matter the cost, a spokesperson for the department says they will continue to carry the drug.

"We have had no indications that we would be eliminating Narcan from our stock of medications," said an ATCEMS spokesperson.

That's welcome news to people like Kelly. She may not get her son back, but she is hopeful other mothers will get to keep theirs.