Drug companies jacking up the price of life-saving medications can seem arbitrary, cruel, and even scandalous. The infamous CEO Martin Shkreli hiked the price of Daraprim, a drug used by AIDS patients to fend off infections, from $13.50 To $750 for one pill. The company Mylan raised the cost of the Epipen that reverses anaphylactic shock caused by allergies 500%, from $100 to $600.
And now there's the case of Evzio. It's a talking auto-injector with naloxone, the antidote to reverse opioid overdoses. It's easy to use for people with no medical training. The actual drug naloxone can cost as little as a nickel a dose, according to industry insiders. But Evzio costs a lot more: its price tag is over $4,000.
Lesley Stahl: What do you think about, in the midst of a crisis, shooting the price up like that?
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: If you're out there trying to get as far and wide coverage for people and you watch the price escalate, it feels really predatory. And it feels really uncaring.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb, who runs an organization that hands out naloxone in Utah, distributes syringes that cost the least, around $15 each. She says they're just as easy to use as the newer, pricier devices. We decided to try for ourselves.
Lesley Stahl: So hand me the syringe for one sec.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: Okay.
Lesley Stahl: Here I'm trying to do this thinking that I've got a body in front of me and that I'm a nervous wreck.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: Sure.
Lesley Stahl: And there's a lot of panic in me. So I've done that. I pull this off-- twist-- oh, okay. Already, I've messed up--
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: No, see.
Lesley Stahl: --by having a nervous break--
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: See, that's okay, though. Just pull.
Lesley Stahl: So you put this down somewhere. Then tip it up?
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: Uh-huh.
Lesley Stahl: And move the needle below the airline.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: Yeah.
Lesley Stahl: Okay, now I'm having trouble. This is not as easy as you-- keep saying.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: You don't think?
Lesley Stahl: No.
At least not for me. Next we tried Narcan, the nasal spray. It costs much more than the syringe: $125 for a pack of two.
Lesley Stahl: You peel it. Place it in the nose. And push it.
Lesley Stahl: So I pushed it way up the guy's nose?
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: Uh-huh.
Lesley Stahl: Or the woman's nose?
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: Uh-huh.
Lesley Stahl: And I plunge?
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: Yep.
Lesley Stahl: Oh. There you go!
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: There you go. Now, take into account that you might have to deal with a whole lotta yuck in a nose to be able to make that easy step.
Then there's Evzio, by far the most expensive option. It's an auto-injector that talks you through the process:
EVZIO TRAINER: To inject, place black end against outer thigh...
I used a trainer without naloxone in it.
EVZIO TRAINER: Five, four, three, two, one. (BEEPING) Injection complete.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: There you go.
Lesley Stahl: Wow.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: So you get it, easy to use?
Lesley Stahl: I get it.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: It's there.
Lesley Stahl: Really easy. I think because-- something's talking to you, it's calming.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: You feel like you have advice.
Lesley Stahl: I can see why it's more expensive, not as more expensive, but--
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: I don't know. I bought a card that talks to me at Walmart for $1.49 yesterday.
"It's 45 to 54-year-old women. That's who's most likely to die today in Utah."
At $4000-plus for a pack of two, even with discounts and donations, Evzio is completely out of budget for organizations like Dr. Plumb's or for first-responders who deal with drug-addicts on the streets. But Evzio's maker has targeted a different at-risk population. It's the group, Dr. Plumb says, that has the most overdose deaths in Utah.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: Picture who you think that person is today that someone's planning a funeral for. I picture a 22-year-old jobless, shiftless, maybe homeless young man. Well, here's the demographics: It's me. It's 45 to 54-year-old women. That's who's most likely to die today in Utah.
It's a fact that middle age women and men are a large vulnerable population all across the country.
They often die at home from misusing or abusing high-dose prescription pain pills. Also at risk are other household members with access to the medicine cabinet.
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: I can tell you multiple stories of kids, of babies that come in not breathing from--
Lesley Stahl: Babies?
Dr. Jennifer Plumb: --accidental exposures in their homes. If you hang out with kids, they're oral explorers. I love them dearly. But they're buggers. They get into everything, right?
So doctors, who prescribe opioids, are now encouraged
To prescribe naloxone at the same time. It's called co-prescribing, and both the opioid and the antidote are supposed to be covered by insurance. That's the lucrative market Evzio's maker, Kaleo, was going after. It priced the injector high to begin with: $575. And then bumped it up more than 550 percent.
Former Kaleo Employee 1: I began my job search the day after they announced the price hike, because it was greedy and a little unethical, in my opinion.
We talked to over a dozen former Kaleo employees, including these two sales reps, in shadow for fear of being blackballed in the industry.
Lesley Stahl: You'd go into a doctor's office and try to convince him to write a prescription for this medication that has just jumped up to $4000. How did the doctors react?
Former Kaleo Employee 1: The doctors, most of them were disgusted.
Lesley Stahl: And how did you feel?
Former Kaleo Employee 2: I felt slimy. I no longer felt like I'm helping people. Now I feel like I'm taking advantage of people.
Former Kaleo Employee 1: Now, remember, we're talking about naloxone. Kaleo didn't invent or didn't discover naloxone.
Lesley Stahl: Right.
Former Kaleo Employee 2: Naloxone's been around for 50 years.
Lesley Stahl: It's a generic at this point.
Former Kaleo Employee 2: It costs pennies. Just imagine if you took aspirin, been around forever, and you packaged it up in a fancy box and put a bow on there.