April 29, 2021 – Naloxone is not a new drug. It was first patented in 1961 as a medication to reverse the common side effect of constipation in patients prescribed opioids, but was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for overdose reversal in 1971. The original patent expired long ago, so today the generic version only costs around $20. But new delivery systems—like the auto-injector and the nasal spray—have allowed for new patents, of which there are currently seven, with the auto-injector and nasal spray not due to expire until 2035. In effect, companies are now charging for the delivery system, not the drug itself.  There is no standard way of acquiring naloxone in the US. Across the country, different people and organizations do so in different ways.

In San Francisco, the National Harm Reduction Coalition’s DOPE Project (Drug Overdose Prevention and Education) provides free injectable and nasal spray naloxone to people who use drugs. For the former, it relies on a deal painstakingly arranged by unpaid harm reductionists working with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which owns Hospira, the makers of injectable naloxone hydrochloride. This “ensures access to injectable doses of Pfizer for a cost I can’t disclose,” said DOPE Project manager Kristen Marshall. “That is the way historically anything has to get done when you are representing people outside the mainstream.”



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