Price spike endangers EpiPen users

photo by Becca Schwartz
Photo by Becca Schwartz
photo by Becca Schwartz
Photo by Becca Schwartz

Walking away from a life-saving medicine is not easy, but VCU sophomore and Walmart pharmacy technician Mehran Stanakzai says he has seen people forced to do it too many times.

“I’ve seen parents of patients and patients not able to afford the EpiPen and end up asking me to put it back (on the shelf),” Stanakzai said.

EpiPens inject a dose of the drug epinephrine to counter severe allergic reactions. The VCU Student Health cost for a pair of EpiPens is $588.20, up from $100 per pen only a few years ago. Additionally, the pens are now sold exclusively in packs of two.

Director of Pharmacy Service Cathy Moolhuyzen said the price ultimately prevents many from buying the pens at all.

“It is currently at an all-time high and for many patients, the cost prevents them from buying the product,” Moolhuyzen said. “This can be dangerous for patients that have unforeseen life-threatening allergies.”

Mylan, the company that manufactures and sells EpiPens, raised the price for a pair of the auto-injectors to more than $600 in August, causing two class-action lawsuits. The company acquired the product in 2007, when the pens were less than $100. Mylan said it is working on making a generic product that will be about half the current price.

Many of the roughly 3.6 million EpiPen prescriptions in 2015 were to protect against food allergies, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits occur each year for children under the age of 18 for food allergies.

VCU junior Jamie Cherwek said she uses an EpiPen for her seafood allergies. Although she’s never had to use the pen, she said she has it in case of a reaction.

“If I didn’t have insurance I honestly wouldn’t spend the money on them since my last batch expired,” Cherwek said. “My allergies have never been life threatening (…) but it is still nice to have the pen in case.”

Moolhuyzen said many patients have opted to keep out-of-date pens instead of paying the higher cost of the new ones.

But the potential efficacy decrease of expired pens can be dangerous, too. Moolhuyzen said she is researching an option where students with no insurance and low income may be able to qualify for a program from Mylan to receive a free EpiPen.

“There will be more ER visits and deaths,” Moolhuyzen said, “if people cannot afford this product.”

SaraRose Martin, Contributing Writer

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