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California is joining with a New Jersey company to buy a generic opioid overdose reversal drug

By ADAM BEAM, Associated Press
Published: April 29, 2024, 8:41am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is partnering with a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company to purchase a generic version of Narcan, the drug that can save someone’s life during an opioid overdose, under a deal announced Monday by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Amneal Pharmaceuticals will sell naloxone to California for $24 per pack, or about 40% cheaper than the market rate. California will give away the packs for free to first responders, universities and community organizations through the state’s Naloxone Distribution Project.

The deal is significant because it means California will be able to buy a lot more naloxone — 3.2 million packs in one year instead of 2 million — for the same total cost.

The deal means naloxone eventually will be available under the CalRx label. Newsom first proposed CalRx back in 2019 as an attempt to force drug companies to lower their prices by offering much cheaper, competing versions of life-saving medication. He signed a law in 2020 giving the authority to the state.

California governments and businesses will be able to purchase naloxone outside of the Naloxone Distribution Project, the Newsom administration said, adding the state is working on a plan to make it available for sale to individuals.

“California is disrupting the drug industry with CalRx — securing life-saving drugs at lower and transparent prices,” Newsom said in an statement provided by his office.

Naloxone has been available in the U.S. without a prescription since March of 2023, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Narcan, a nasal spray brand produced by the Maryland-based pharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions.

Amneal Pharmaceuticals makes a generic equivalent to Narcan that won FDA approval last week.

The naloxone packs purchased by California initially will be available under the Amneal label. The naloxone will move to the CalRx label once its approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a process the Newsom administration said could take several months.

Opioid overdose deaths, which are caused by heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone, have increased dramatically in California and across the country. Annual opioid overdose deaths in California more than doubled since 2019, reaching 7,385 deaths at the end of 2022.

California began giving away naloxone kits for free in 2018. State officials say the Naloxone Distribution Project has given out 4.1 million kits, which have reversed a reported 260,000 opioid overdoses. The money has come from taxpayers and portions of a nationwide settlement agreement with some other pharmaceutical companies.

Last year, California lawmakers agreed to spend $30 million to partner with a drug company to make its own version of naloxone. But they ended up not needing to spend that money on this deal, since Amneal Pharmaceutical was already so far along in the FDA approval process it did not require up-front funding from the state.

Instead, California will use a portion of the revenue it receives from a national opioid settlement to purchase the drugs.

Naloxone is just one drug the Newsom administration is targeting.

Last year, California signed a 10-year agreement with the nonprofit Civica to produce CalRx branded insulin, which is used to treat diabetes. California has set aside $100 million for that project, with $50 million to develop the drugs and the rest set aside to invest in a manufacturing facility. Newsom said a 10 milliliter vial of state-branded insulin would sell for $30.

Civica has been meeting with the FDA and “has a clear path forward,” the Newsom administration said.

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