(Adds company background, Surgeon General advisory, details of Kaiser study on opioid use)
By Deena Beasley
April 5 (Reuters) - Kaleo Inc, which came under fire last year for the high price of its device to treat opioid overdoses, said on Thursday it is expanding nonprescription access to the Evzio injector and will sell it to U.S. government agencies at a steep discount.
Evzio, with a list price of $4,100 for a twin-pack of auto-injectors, contains the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and can be used in emergencies by people without medical training.
Kaleo linked its announcement to Thursday’s advisory from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams encouraging more people to routinely carry naloxone.
The privately held drugmaker, which already covers out-of-pocket costs for commercially insured patients with a prescription for Evzio, said it will now make the device available at no cost for those same insured patients without a prescription in six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio.
The patients will need to call a central phone number, talk to a pharmacist, and get Evzio delivered to their door. Kaleo will bill their commercial insurer.
In response to the opioid epidemic, states have enacted laws to ease access to naloxone. Most states permit dispensing through a standing order, and at least half a dozen allow some pharmacists to prescribe naloxone on their own authority.
In a statement, Kaleo said it plans to eventually expand its “Virtual Standing Order” pilot program to additional states.
It also said federal and state government agencies, as well as Native American tribes that purchase directly from Kaleo, will now pay $360 for a pack of two Evzio auto-injectors.
The drugmaker already sells the device at the $360 cash price for patients without government or commercial insurance and at no cost for people with a household income of less than $100,000.
Kaleo last year caught the attention of lawmakers like U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill after it sharply raised the price of an Evzio twin-pack from $575 in 2014.
The use of prescription opioids among people with employer-based health coverage has declined over the past decade, but the cost of treating addiction and overdoses has increased sharply, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study released on Thursday.
The study found that the annual cost of treating opioid addiction and overdose - from both prescription and illicit use - rose to $2.6 billion in 2016 from $300 million in 2004.
Kaleo also said it will continue to donate Evzio to qualifying nonprofits and first responders demonstrating need.
Reporting by Deena Beasley in Los Angeles Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis