First responders learn Narcan price will double as opioid epidemic soars

Published: Jul. 10, 2017 at 10:59 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 11, 2017 at 9:41 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - As the opioid epidemic gets worse, the price of bringing someone back from an overdose is soaring.

It's happening across the country, but locally, it's tax dollars that are going toward covering the now-doubled cost of Narcan.

With more service calls than ever and the price of Narcan jumping from $20 to $40, Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue is preparing to take from the money supplied for other equipment and technology to provide for the people.

The department will pay for Narcan, no matter the price, to help victims of the country's most deadly disease, a deputy chief with the department said.

He recalled a man who had overdosed and crashed his car into a city-owned cherry picker at the Oak Street and Mr. Joe White Avenue intersection.

"The city was working on the street light and had a guy in the bucket truck,(another) guy was driving, overdosed on heroin, ended up passing out," Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Tom Gwyer said. "Went through the intersection here at Joe White, they realize he, you know, he's not breathing. They pull him out, needle's in the passenger seat, Narcan him, wakes him up."

It's not an uncommon scene.

"An addict doesn't know what they're getting. They think they're getting straight heroin. It's laced with a carfentanil. They get too much of it and then they overdose," Gwyer said.

He added that carfentanil is very strong and can be used to sedate large animals like elephants.

However, some are profiting from the epidemic. Drug suppliers are seeing opportunity.

Gwyer said he remembers when Narcan was $1 a dose.  Now, the department is paying $20 a dose with Grand Strand Medical Center's pharmacy as its supplier.

Now, the hospital can no longer provide for the department. MBFR will begin buying Narcan from a new supplier on Aug. 1 at $40 a pop. Gwyer said the department just recently found out they'd have to switch providers.

The chief, however, is looking at the silver lining.

"We've seen where there's agencies that are paying $70, $80, $100 dollars a dose, so fortunately we're not going to be anywhere close to that," he said.

However, a doubled price tag still leaves taxpayer burdens. Gwyer said Narcan was used to bring people back to life 430 times last year within the Myrtle Beach city limits.  At $20 a dose, that's almost $9,000 spent solely on Narcan.

"It's like with anything, if we weren't spending that money on Narcan, we'd have something else to provide with," he said.

Horry County's Narcan expense can only be an estimate.  The county spokeswoman said the county uses three different providers for the drug, and their price changes with the market.  It's currently $40 a dose, but has been as high as $46 per dose.

The county's usage is much higher than Myrtle Beach, as 958 doses were given last year.  For the 2017 year to date, 419 doses of Narcan have been administered across Horry County.

Horry County Police, Myrtle Beach Police and other area agencies received Narcan this year through the LEON grant.  They're being provided with Narcan, which holds the drug Naloxone, through the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). The main purpose for police Narcan is to protect against potentially fatal encounters with the drug Fentanyl. Deputy Chief Gwyer said fire rescue also looked at the grant to see if they would be a candidate for it as well, but he explained the way the grant is written makes only police departments applicable

When it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic and lowering Narcan's price, Gwyer said educating communities is the only way.

According to Gwyer, the Booker T Washington neighborhood, Canal Street, Chester Street between Second and Seventh avenues, and Ocala and Osceola streets are the hot spots for Myrtle Beach overdose calls.

Gwyer said as long as the need is there, the department will buy Narcan, despite market price. He said the only way to fight the epidemic is through community education.  However, he described that as a 'monumental task.'

Copyright 2017 WMBF News. All Rights Reserved.