EpiPens save lives when severe allergic reactions occur, but rising costs of the most commonly used epinephrine injectors are leaving many families broke, while others are opting to risk suffering a life-threatening attack by simply not buying them.
CBS News reported that in 2009 pharmacies paid about $100 for a two-pack of EpiPens, but today that same package costs more than $600.
"Within the last two months, we've had about three patients who had issues with the price of an EpiPen,” pharmacist Leon Tarasenko, president at Pasteur Pharmacy in New York City, told CBS. “They did not receive it. They just refused to take it.”
The devices automatically inject epinephrine, or synthetic adrenaline, to adjust blood pressure, reduce wheezing, improve breathing, increase the heart rate, and minimize swelling or any hives that may result from an allergic reaction.
EpiPens are typically stocked in schools, where teachers and staff use them to rescue a child undergoing an allergy attack from a food or insect bite. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eight foods— milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts— account for 90 percent of serious allergic reactions in the United States.
"This brand name, EpiPen, it's like Kleenex to allergists," said Bloomberg medical reporter Robert Langreth, according to CBS. "You know, it's a name they know and trust. It's what they prescribe."
Mylan, the manufacturer of EpiPen, has enjoyed a monopoly in the epinephrine injector industry after its primary competitor, Sanofi’s Auvi-Q, issued a recall last year, the news website reported.
According to CBS, Mylan offers coupons worth up to $100, which can provide relief for some families but not those whose insurance plans have high deductibles.
The company said in a statement to CBS that the price of its EpiPen “has changed over time to better reflect important product features and the value the product provides," and that "we've made a significant investment to support the device over the past years."
But Langreth told the news website the company hasn’t changed its device since its 2007 acquisition. Instead, Mylan has spent tens of millions of dollars on a successful ad campaign that has made it a staple at schools across the U.S.
"It's a totally established brand name with little competition," said Langreth, according to CBS. "That gives them freedom to raise the price every year."