There’s a new push to replenish the state fund designed to cut the cost of the life-saving drug naloxone, months after its financial backing quietly dried up, increasing the price local first responders pay by nearly twofold.
Attorney General Maura Healey’s office confirmed Tuesday that it deposited $250,000 last week into the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund, providing the account with its first fresh infusion since it was depleted last fall.
Several lawmakers are floating proposals that could pour hundreds of thousands more into the fund, and a business-backed group — launched a year ago to help fight the tide of opioid deaths — says it intends to contribute another $50,000.
News of the private donation quickly prompted the Baker administration to call on others to give.
“If we’re serious about getting people into recovery and treatment, the first step is keeping them alive,” said Representative Andy X. Vargas, a Haverhill Democrat who is pushing two amendments to the upcoming House budget that would bolster the account.
The fund, overseen by the Department of Public Health, was created to buy the overdose-reversing drug better known as Narcan in bulk, helping to cut the price towns and cities would otherwise pay. Roughly 140 have used it to buy more than 12,000 doses of the medication since 2016.
The fund initially relied on a $325,000 settlement Healey’s office reached in 2015, plus $100,000 the Legislature deposited, to offer Narcan spray at $40 per box. But funding ran out in September, leaving first responders to pay $71, according to a report the DPH filed with lawmakers in late March.
Help quickly followed. Healey’s office cut a $250,000 check April 9, using money from a 2017 settlement with Insys Therapeutics Inc., a company accused of using misleading marketing to push a fentanyl spray. That’s in addition to a $47,000 settlement pot her office said earlier this month it would contribute.
On Monday, RIZE Massachusetts, a group launched last year with $13 million in private backing, said it will contribute $50,000. Marylou Sudders, the health and human services secretary, applauded the donation and urged others “to consider supporting this program.”
“The epidemic has been so tough on cities and towns, and especially on first responders,” said Julie Burns, executive director of RIZE, which General Electric, Partners HealthCare, and others have supported. “We saw this as a way to support the work they’re doing.”
The next move could be in the Legislature. Vargas proposes earmarking $350,000 next fiscal year and allowing non-profits to buy the drug through the fund. His amendments are part of a handful of proposals lawmakers have tacked on to the House budget plan.
“This is a small amount of money, given the overall [state] budget, and it addresses a crisis that we have to address,” said Representative Linda Dean Campbell, a Methuen Democrat who has proposed a $100,000 infusion but also backs Vargas’s amendment.
Campbell pointed to the explosion of the powerful opioid fentanyl and the recent emergence of the even more lethal carfentanil as reasons to keep the price of Narcan low.
House leaders did not include additional money for the fund in their initial budget proposal. But Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, the House Ways & Means chair, indicated he’s open to it. He noted the House has already set aside $1 million for a separate account to fund Narcan grants.
“I feel like the challenges are so great,” he said last week. “All the members are really attuned to what’s going on . . . This is a scourge that’s hitting every community in different ways.”