The EpiPen Might Save My Life, But Not Before it Breaks My Bank

Epinephrine is the only treatment for an anaphylactic reaction. It is only available through a prescription. It costs way too much, and the price only continues to rise.

I recently had to refill my yearly EpiPen prescription. What a fun time of year, especially since I’ve been paying for everything out of my own pocket, no longer constrained by my parents’ wallets. So when my doctor whipped out this beautiful, $0 copay, My EpiPen Savings CardTM, I couldn’t wait to get to the pharmacy. But when the pharmacist rang up my EpiPen prescription, his brow furrowed. He said, “That can’t be right,” and told me to hang tight while he called my insurance company. Apparently my insurance policy’s full premium wasn’t paid, so they could not honor the savings card to its full extent.

When I asked the pharmacist why the price was so high these days, he said it’s likely because Sanofi US recalled all Auvi‑Q® epinephrine devices – the only major competitor to the EpiPen – so the EpiPen manufacturer can basically charge whatever they want.

After the $0 copay card took off a little over $100, the grand total of one EpiPen box containing two EpiPens (keep in mind, having two EpiPens is recommended in case one isn’t enough in the event of a reaction, so even though there were two provided, they could turn out to be just for a one-time reaction) was $231.89.

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Personally, I’ve never had to use my EpiPen since I’m a pro at playing keepaway from milk and tree nuts. But I can’t not have an epinephrine injector on my person at all times – you never know what could happen. So, I see my purchase as, essentially, life insurance. When my EpiPen expires, I will shoot $231.89 into an old orange before disposing the injector.

But what about the people who do need to use their EpiPens before they expire, then need to purchase more? What about the people who can’t afford to pay hundreds on something that they might need, but it happens to be something that would save their lives?

Making people with food allergies pay hundreds for something that could save our lives, when there is no other product for us to choose from, is exploitation.

Bernstein Research analyst Ronny Gal, in an an article by CNBC, said, “[Pharmaceutical companies] take drugs that have largely been underpriced before—or that’s the way they’d call it… They buy a drug that does not have good alternatives and they raise the price sky-high. And because it’s very hard to say no to those patients; because there’s no alternative, people cover this.”

Of Gal’s three examples of this, one was Mylan’s EpiPen.

The CBS article continued to explain that the EpiPen price, according to data from Evercore ISI, increased 27 percent a year, on average, from 2011 to 2015, to more than $300 each dose. In May 2016 alone, Mylan increased the EpiPen price by 15 percent.

Meanwhile, prescriptions for EpiPen rose 9.5 percent, on average, each year from 2011 to 2014, according to data from IMS Health. Sales in that time, the data show, rose an average of 42 percent a year, to more than $1 billion.

Cha-ching for Mylan.

The EpiPen brand is synonymous with allergies, but it’s not the EpiPen that we need. We need an epinephrine injector to hold us over until we can make it to a hospital. I’ve been an EpiPen customer for 24 years, and I don’t even want to attempt to do the math on how much my family and I have spent on unused EpiPens.

What we need is a competitive market. And when there are simply no competitors, drug companies need to have limits. The CBS article also quoted a letter that Democrats wrote to House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which I think sums up my point perfectly:

“We believe it is critical to hold drug companies to account when they engage in a business strategy of buying old neglected drugs and turning them into high-priced ‘specialty’ drugs.”

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