California joins New Jersey company to buy generic opioid overdose reversal drug

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has partnered with a New Jersey drug company to buy 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 in California for $24 per pack, or 40% cheaper than the market rate. California will give away the kits for free to first responders, universities and community organizations through the state’s naloxone distribution project.

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

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

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

California is disrupting the pharmaceutical industry with CalRx by ensuring life-saving drugs at lower and more transparent prices, Newsom said in a statement provided by his office.

Naloxone has been available in the US without a prescription since March 2023, when the US Food and Drug Administration approved Narcan, a brand of nasal spray produced by 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 will initially be available under the Amneal label. Naloxone will move onto the CalRx label once it is 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 doubled since 2019, reaching 7,385 deaths by the end of 2022.

California began giving away free naloxone kits in 2018. State officials say the Naloxone Distribution Project has given out 4.1 million kits, reversing 260,000 opioid overdoses. The money has come from taxpayers and parties to a nationwide settlement agreement with some other drug companies.

Last year, California lawmakers agreed to spend $30 million to partner with a pharmaceutical company to make their own version of naloxone. But they ended up not having to spend that money on that deal, since Amneal Pharmaceutical was already so far along in the FDA approval process that it didn’t need seed funding from the state.

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

Naloxone is just one drug Newsom’s administration is targeting.

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

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

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