Trump gives surprise plug to opioid overdose antidote company

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President Donald Trump speaks during an event at Manchester Community College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Monday, March 19, 2018. Trump unveiled a new plan to combat the opioid epidemic on Monday, including tougher punishments -- in some cases the de
President Donald Trump speaks during an event at Manchester Community College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Monday, March 19, 2018. Trump unveiled a new plan to combat the opioid epidemic on Monday, including tougher punishments -- in some cases the de Credit: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

Out of the blue, the small distributor of a nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses got a major endorsement from the U.S. president.

During an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Monday, President Donald Trump asked a top executive from Adapt Pharma Inc. to join him on stage and handed him the microphone to talk about the company's programs that provide free and discounted samples of its Narcan spray to schools and first responders.

"I did not know that he was going to ask me to come on stage and talk about the announcement," says Mike Kelly, Adapt's president of U.S. operations. "It was very nice of him to do it and bring awareness to this initiative."

The unexpected moment of fame began to take shape just a few days ahead of Trump's speech at a New Hampshire community college, where he outlined his administration's plan to combat the opioid crisis.

Over the weekend, Adapt informed the White House that it planned to make a Monday announcement about an expansion of its free program to schools and universities, a company official said. On Sunday, White House staff mentioned Adapt's initiatives to Trump, and subsequently invited some of its executives to the New Hampshire opioid event, White House officials said.

'Amazing' offer

Kelly was sitting in the audience until a few minutes before the event started, when a White House aide asked him to sit on risers on the sides of the podium. Trump called Adapt's program an "amazing and generous offer" before inviting the executive on stage.

Kelly's appearance was the culmination of his company's campaign to raise awareness and expand availability of Narcan since it was approved by U.S. regulators in 2015. Adapt has worked with state legislators and federal policymakers about adjusting laws and removing burdens for access, and spent $470,000 on lobbying in 2016 and 2017, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political spending. At least 45 states and the District of Columbia allow naloxone, the generic name for Narcan, to be obtained without a prescription.

Adapt, which is based in Dublin, but operates out of Radnor, Pennsylvania, is one of a handful of companies that in recent years have introduced products delivering naloxone, a decades-old drug that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose, in Narcan spray. Narcan is a user-friendly alternative to a syringe, the common decades-old method of administering naloxone, which isn't addictive and doesn't induce a high.

It's increasingly common to find Narcan with law enforcement and on school campuses, thanks in part to Adapt's efforts to give the drug away or at a discount.

Raising awareness

Community activists and addiction specialists have said awareness about naloxone has been difficult to raise amid a national crisis that killed 42,000 Americans in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York and Massachusetts have done ad campaigns to alert people that naloxone is available at pharmacies. Trump's opioid commission in November recommended increasing access and resources for naloxone.

The endorsement from Trump on Monday was also a major boost for Opiant Pharmaceuticals, a publicly traded company from whom Adapt licenses its sprays. Opiant's shares surged as much as 56 percent after the speech.

"I'm hoping that schools are calling and our phones are lighting up," Kelly says. "That's my hope."

-- Bloomberg News

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