EpiPen prices anger parents of kids with allergies

The cost of EpiPens have risen more than 400 percent in the past decade, and some area consumers are feeling the financial effects of paying for the expensive anti-allergy drug injectors.

The company that manufacturers the devices, Mylan, has a monopoly on EpiPens — potentially life-saving devices used to stop allergic reactions. Mylan, which has headquarters in England and Pittsburgh, has hiked prices as frequently as three times a year since 2007.

A two-pack of EpiPens has a list price of more than $600. An estimated 40 million Americans have severe allergies and are at risk of going into anaphylactic shock. Symptoms vary — from wheezing, hives and skin swelling to rapid heartbeat, trouble breathing and even death.

Dr. William Parker of Allergy & Asthma Associates of Dayton said he’s heard about the price increases for years. He said parents have asked him why EpiPens cost so much and if there was an alternative to the injector.

“It hasn’t just been months,” he said. “For a few years I have had patients mention to me the high cost of these devices. This is not a new issue for parents.”

Not many options

In 2007, Mylan took over the rights to the EpiPen, which at the time cost about $94 for a pair of syringes. In 2008 and 2009, the company raised the price when a competitor challenged the market. Prices continued to rise, and ballooned to $609 in May.

The company has little competition, and doctors tend to prescribe EpiPens without considering alternative or generic brands.

Pam Bucaro, a clinical nurse specialist at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said it’s concerning to think that suspect alternatives might have to be used if someone can’t afford an EpiPen. Because of the price, some people are turning to manual syringes filled with epinephrine, which is used to treat allergic reactions.

Some doctors have raised concerns over the practice’s sterility and effectiveness.

“That’s pretty scary to expect someone to use a vial with a syringe,” Bucaro said.

Bucaro said the pens are “so quick, easy and pre-dosed.” She said when a patient’s body has an allergic reaction “their body misfires and reacts.” The EpiPen is the emergency dose of medicine that is easy enough for teachers and parents to use, while stopping the rapid onset of a reaction, she said.

Dayton resident Nakesha Haschke said her 2-year-old son was recently tested for a peanut allergy and her pediatrician recommended getting an EpiPen. After insurance and a coupon, her pharmacist said it would still cost more than $300.

“I have yet to pick up the prescription,” she said. “I’ve spent the last couple weeks doing some research and trying to find an alternative. It really makes my heart sick. I obviously don’t want to put the health of my little one at risk.”

Haschke, who also has 5-year-old twins, said the high price would take a “big chunk” out of her family’s budget.

Lawmakers and health care officials are urging the drug company to “exercise reasonable restraint in drug pricing.” Politicians are demanding an explanation, and Mylan CEO Heather Bresch has taken much of the heat.

“It’s a life-saving device,” Parker said. “And when you put the phrase ‘life-threatening’ and ‘children’ in the same sentence, then you’re going to get people’s attention. You’re going to now get Congress’ attention.”

‘Crazy’ prices

Dr. Andrew Gurman of the American Medical Association released a statement that said the EpiPen product has remained unchanged since 2009, yet the cost has skyrocketed, causing some families “to choose between EpiPens and other essentials.”

For Stacey Betts, a mother of three and a resident of Liberty Twp., the issue isn’t about lawmakers or a company dominating the drug market. The EpiPen is a means to keep her sons healthy and protected.

“We have two kids with food allergies, so we need multiple sets of EpiPens,” she said. “The prices have gone up and up every year when you go to get them.”

Betts said she’s thankful that her insurance covers the cost, but she has friends who have spent hundreds of dollars to buy injectors for their children.

“We’ve all been talking about it and how much it costs, how crazy it is,” she said. “I really don’t know what you’d do if you didn’t have insurance.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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