Major price-gauging of the EpiPen has caused those with and without health insurance to panic and seek alternatives.
Many of those who suffer from severe allergies have been outraged this week to find that Mylan, the company that produces the EpiPen, has skyrocketed to over $650 from $250 since 2013. The EpiPen has been hiking prices incrementally since 2010, generally in $50 increments, and were at one point offered at less than $150.
According to Forbes, it appears now that “instead of competing to charge at a lower price, it seems manufacturers were competing to see who could charge the most”.
In response, many people are turning to a cheaper alternative to the lifesaving drug. Local pharmacies actually produce a simpler, traditional version of the EpiPen – a syringe and a vial of epinephrine. The cost for the two is about $20 total – $15 for the syringe itself and only $5 for a few vials of epinephrine. To purchase the drug, you need only a doctor’s prescription.
However, Dr. Howard Mell, an emergency physician in North Carolina and father of a daughter with a severe peanut allergy, says that choosing the cheaper alternative is risky.
“Using this method takes two steps”, he states, “drawing up the correct amount of epinephrine from a vial using a syringe and then switching needles and administering the medication into the allergy victim intramuscularly.”
He goes on to say that “if any of the medicine is accidentally spilled, the correct dose could be missed. You also need to make sure you don’t administer the needle too shallow into the skin”, he says.
The EpiPen is preset to do all of this for you, reducing the possibility of human error.
Mell states that “you may only have 30 seconds to react [when someone goes into anaphylactic shock], the idea that she could draw it up from a vial and administer it to herself is ridiculous” he states, referring to his daughter. He says that even though he and his wife have meticulously trained their daughter for times of emergency, the timeframe to act is very tight – especially when your blood sugar is rapidly dropping.
WHAT ABOUT THE FAMILIES WITH NO OTHER OPTION?
Not everyone has health insurance and $600 for a few EpiPens is out of the question for a family who needs that money for bills and food, so what is the best option?
There are other, generic options for the EpiPen that are similarly designed. An epinephrine auto-injector called Adrenaclick, by Amedra Pharmaceuticals, is available. It costs less but is also more difficult to get a hold of. There are also two other brands that you can acquire in Canada, but have not passed American FDA guidelines.
Mylan, the producer of the EpiPen and price-gauger in question, has also vowed to launch a cheaper, generic version of the auto-injector. They say they will release the new injectors for $300 for two, rather than $600 – still a steep price, but a 50% cheaper alternative.
Mylan has stated that the price increase is mostly consumed by insurance companies. The majority of EpiPen users will only pay about $100 out of pocket for the injector. However, a sizable minority with high-deductible health plans have put EpiPen users in dire straits.
Mylan Chief Executive, Heather Bresch, issued a statement saying “we understand the deep frustration and concerns associated with the cost of EpiPen to the patient, and have always shared the public’s desire to ensure that this important product be accessible to anyone who needs it.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform committee has sent a letter to Mylan, seeking validation for the price increases. That investigation is currently in progress.
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