EpiPen Costs a Concern as a New School Year Begins

By Michelle Moskowitz
Sentinel Contributor

As parents and kids excitedly approach the beginning of the school year, many families whose kids suffer from allergies are far from smiling.  The price of the EpiPen, the injected emergency medication used to treat severe allergic reactions to foods such as nuts, eggs and shellfish as well as bug bites, has increased substantially. 

Without having an EpiPen readily available, people exposed to certain allergens run the risk of anaphylactic shock, in which symptoms quickly escalate from hives and skin swelling to difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, convulsions and, potentially, death.  The EpiPen contains the antidote, consisting of an injection of the hormone epinephrine.  Almost 40 million Americans today suffer from severe allergies. 

After the most recent price spike, the least expensive price today is around $600 for a two-pen pack. (Doctors recommend having two pens in case an extra dose is needed for a severe reaction.)  Mylan Pharmaceuticals, the Pennsylvania-based company that owns the drug, has come under intense scrutiny for steadily increasing its prices since it acquired the drug back in 2007.

When it first acquired the drug, the price was $100 for a two-pen pack. In just nine years, the price rose to $600 for that same two-pen pack.  Unlike other countries, the U.S. government does not regulate drug prices, thus allowing drug manufacturers to charge whatever they think the market will bear.

Contributing to the outcry is the revelation that last year, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch earned a reported $19 million, and $54 million over the past three years.  On social media a protest campaign to Congress called “Stop the EpiPen Price Gouging” has already garnered almost 50,000 signatures.

Amid the public outrage and criticism, Mylan announced this past Monday that it would introduce a generic version of its product, which will cost half the price of their brand EpiPen (bringing it down $300 for a two-pack).   This generic product is expected to be available in about three weeks. According to the Food and Drug Administration, generic drugs contain all of the essential medicine the brand version does.

Unfortunately, there is no competitive product on the market today. There is one slightly less expensive product available called Adrenaclick, but because EpiPen has captured the market since 1987, physicians seldom prescribe it.  Another competitive injector, Auvi-Q, was recalled due to inaccurate dosing. Six months after the recall, Mylan increased its prices yet again.

Other launch products to hit the market have been faulty, causing even more distrust among people unwilling to risk their lives with a potentially ineffective product.  But Mylan has indicated that 80 percent of its prescriptions are covered by insurance, and patients covered bear no out-of-pocket expense.

Mylan also makes rebates available to consumers through its website, through features like “My EpiPen Savings Card.”   Since the announcement of the most recent price increase, some coupons that were once $100 went up to $300.  Of course, fees and co-pays vary depending on the insurance company.

National chain pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens require patients to pay up front, and then patients can submit their rebates for reimbursement.  Many Greenwich residents may not be affected by the price increase. Greenwich Pharmacy, at 116 Greenwich Avenue, not only will process rebates before the medication is purchased, but often notifies patients they are available in the first place.

“We always tell our customers about utilizing these rebates (for the EpiPen as well as many other frequently used prescription medications) so they can save a lot of money,” says pharmacist Susanah Daniar.  In addition to saving their patients time and money, the pharmacy provides free delivery of prescription medications.

Visit epipen.com for more information or greenwichrx.com.

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