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As Costs Spike, Louisville Looks To Streamline Purchase Of Anti-Overdose Drug

WFPL Staff

City government is looking to systematically change the way its agencies procure the overdose antidote naloxone.

At present, the various city agencies charged with responding to drug overdoses -- including EMS, policeand the local jail -- spend thousands of dollars on naloxone each year. The overdose-reversal drug is considered a critical element in preventing deaths from overdoses.

Despite the broad needfor naloxone in Louisville, city agencies take a silo approach in purchasing the drug. At least three different suppliers provide naloxone to various city agencies. The process has drawn criticism from some elected leaders.

Officials will soon award a sole contract to one supplier to provide naloxone to city agencies, said Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Fischer. The move will eliminate the patchwork supply chain of naloxone distribution to the city's police department, jail, ambulance crews and more.

The move comes as the need and cost for naloxone has increased in recent years, Porter said in an emailed statement. Purchasing the anti-overdose drug from a sole supplier will allow city officials to negotiate for the "best possible price," she said.

"We are in the process of making the award," Porter said.

Porter declined an interview to discuss the change in more detail -- such as when the changes are expected to begin and any expected cost savings to come from the change in purchasing procedure.

Costs Higher Than Ever

City agencies currently spend more than ever before on naloxone as heroin use and opioid addiction plagues Louisville.

Naloxone cost the city’s Emergency Medical Services $268,000 last year, a 52 percent increase from 2015, which was a 160 percent increase from 2014.

Metro Corrections officials in 2016 spent more than double than in 2015.

As for the cost of naloxone to other agencies -- like Metro Police -- it's unclear.

Police officials have yet to respond to multiple interview requests, and the city's budget office denied a request last week for any purchase orders submitted by city agencies to known naloxone suppliers, saying the information wasn’t readily available and to produce such information would be a “significant undertaking.”

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, vice chair of the minority Republican caucus, criticized the city's patchwork procurement process during an interview last week.

She said she witnessed the opioid addiction epidemic play out at University Hospital during her career as a nurse and considers heroin and opioid abuse to be the city's most pressing issue.

Nationally, opioid related overdose deaths have never been higher, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And the drug overdose rate in Kentucky is one of the highest in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Porter, the spokesperson, said city agencies administerednaloxone more than 4,700 times in 2016. Still, more than 360 people died from an overdose last year, according to a report from The Couier-Journal.

Parker didn't respond to an interview request Tuesday to discuss the city's plan to change how it purchases naloxone, but last week she suggested agencies could leverage their needs to seek lower costs and higher efficiency for "an improved method."

Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, a Democrat and chair of the council's contracts and appointments committee, declined an interview. But Tony Hyatt, a spokesman for the Democratic caucus, said he expects council members to support the move if it leads to cost savings.

"The question is not necessarily how we are buying but just how much we need to buy," he said. "The main thing is to make sure departments have enough to do what they need to do."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.