Assemblymember Liz Ortega pushes to make Narcan affordable as FDA approves over-the-counter sales

Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-Hayward)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted approval for the over-the-counter sale of Narcan, a nasal spray that can swiftly and safely reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. While this news is promising, Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-District 20) warns that the medication’s cost may still be prohibitively high for many people. The manufacturer has the authority to determine the price, and depending on the dosage and source, the cost can reach $140.

Ortega introduced Assembly Bill 1060 earlier this month to address the issue of affordability. The proposed legislation would mandate that Medi-Cal and other insurers cover the cost of both prescription and over-the-counter naloxone, ensuring that the price tag does not act as a barrier to access. Ortega said this is especially important in light of the fentanyl crisis, which is a major driver of overdose deaths.

“Fentanyl is a major public health crisis, and it’s poisoning and threatening our kids,” Ortega told the East Bay Echo. “That’s why my bill, AB 1060, is so important. The FDA has made Narcan accessible, and it’s now my goal to make it affordable so that every parent, every community member has the opportunity to save someone’s life if they need to.”

Nationwide, over 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2022, with fentanyl-related deaths accounting for the lion’s share of the fatalities. In California alone, there were more than 6,800 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021, the majority of which were attributed to fentanyl.

In response to this crisis, public health officials and first responders have called for increased access to naloxone, which is safe, easy to use, and will not harm someone who does not have opioids in their system. A nationwide study published in 2018 found that states that enacted laws to increase access to naloxone saw a 14% decrease in opioid-related deaths. The FDA’s move to increase the accessibility of naloxone is expected to decrease the rate of overdose deaths related to opioids.

“Today’s approval of OTC naloxone nasal spray will help improve access to naloxone, increase the number of locations where it’s available and help reduce opioid overdose deaths throughout the country,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a press release.

While the FDA is encouraging manufacturers to make naloxone more affordable, Ortega’s bill would guarantee that price isn’t an issue for Californians. The bill is expected to go before the Assembly Committee on Health next month.

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