Thanks to the invention of twin VCU alums Eric and Evan Edwards, people now have a greater chance of surviving an accidental opioid overdose.
Last spring, the FDA approved the Edwards’ product EVZIO, an EpiPen-like overdose antidote that the brothers developed and are now manufacturing.
EVZIO is a naloxone auto-injector meant to be used by family members or caregivers of someone medically prescribed opioids — more commonly known as painkillers.
Founded by the Edwards twins in 2004, Kaléo, formerly known as Intelliject, is a Richmond-based pharmaceutical company that the entrepreneurial duo founded after conceptualizing Auvi-Q, an epinephrine auto-injector that uses the same Intelliject Prompt System technology that EVZIO utilizes.
“They had a plan for what they wanted to accomplish and I think they’ve done it,” said Will Garnett, a retired professor of VCU’s School of Pharmacy and Eric Edwards’ graduate advisor.
Using the Intelliject Prompt System technology, the device features visual and voice instructions that anyone, even with no medical training, could use.
Garnett said Eric Edwards managed to earn his pharmaceutical sciences degree in, record time while raising a family and working on FDA approval for both EVZIO and Auvi-Q.
“Eric was my last graduate student and it was a good way for me to go out,” Garnett said. “He was a pleasure to work with. He was so self-directed and had so much energy.”
In recent years, prescription opioid abuse has become a growing pandemic across the country. In April, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg addressed this growing concern.
“Tragically, the most recent data shows that more than 16,000 lives are lost each year due to opioid-related overdoses,” Hamburg said. “In fact, drug overdose deaths, driven largely by prescription drug overdose deaths, are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States — surpassing motor vehicle crashes.”
Henry Brownstein, director of the Center for Public Policy at VCU said Kaléo’s new product runs parallel to a public health policy that Virginia and a growing number of other states are adopting to combat opiod abuse and the number of accidental overdoses.
Brownstein said opioid users who have difficulty affording or obtaining prescription pain medication from doctors often turn to cheaper, street-level heroin as an alternative.
“There’s a lot of drug use out there and it’s not going away,” Brownstein said. “There are a lot of people who use drugs for all sorts of reasons, but people see prescription drug use as not a problem because a doctor prescribed it.”
Specifically, Brownstein said a large demographic of younger, suburban individuals are affected by opioid abuse because they have not received the same level of education on the potential risks as previous generations did when heroin was more vilified by media.
This problem is especially pronounced in Virginia. Earlier this year, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced his administration would aggressively pursue avenues to prevent more accidental deaths.
The Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse was announced in September and held its first meeting on Nov. 12 in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Prescription painkiller and heroin abuse is a nationwide problem, and is spreading rapidly across the Commonwealth,” said McAuliffe in a press release.
The task force is composed of legislators, judiciary members, law enforcement, health professionals, community advocates and individuals directly affected by addiction or drug abuse.
“We must take immediate action in Virginia, or these terrible trends will continue to ravage our families, our businesses and our economy,” McAuliffe stated.
Co-chaired by both Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, the task force has five key objectives: education, treatment, data monitoring, drug storage and disposal, and enforcement.
Kaléo currently has a law enforcement and first responder donation program where departments can apply to receive a supply of the injectors for free. Brownstein said he believes EVZIO has the opportunity to help combat the prescription and heroin abuse epidemic.
“They can use (EVZIO) in a situation where someone is experiencing an overdose,” Brownstein said. “It won’t save them permanently, but can help them live long enough to get the help they really need.”