By Lisi Burciaga, Staff Writer
// When it comes to the average student, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would under no circumstances be considered a safety hazard. However, for senior Ben Peck, who suffers from a severe allergy to all kinds of nuts, the popular lunchtime snack is deadly. In the case of an allergen-related mishap, Peck relies on his EpiPen to save the day, and potentially, his life.
An EpiPen is an injection device that administers a life-saving drug called epinephrine to halt an allergic reaction in its tracks. In most emergencies, EpiPens are utilized by injecting epinephrine into the muscle of the thigh.
Peck is one of 14 Acalanes students known to carry an EpiPen, and one of 24 known students who have ever needed an EpiPen or could need one in the future. However, due to recent increases in EpiPen prices, obtaining this necessity may prove to be more of a struggle than in the past.
Back in 2007, during Peck’s elementary school days, a two pack of EpiPens could be purchased for less than $100 at a local pharmacy. This past May, they were on the market for over $600. Prices continue to grow to this day, leaving them closer to $700 for a set, according to the New York Times.
The problem with such steep prices is that EpiPen users often have to own several of these instruments to carry on their person, leave at home, or store at school or work. Purchasing multiple is expensive as is, but it becomes unmanageable for some users because EpiPens expire and must be replaced as often as every six months. When asked about his feelings towards the price increase, Peck says it makes him feel taken advantage of.
“Because I have to switch them out every so often and replace them… [the EpiPen manufacturers] have me by a hold,” Peck said.
EpiPen manufacturers do have their customers by a hold, as purchasing EpiPens is not a choice for those who have serious allergies and must be prepared in the event of a mishap.
Just as most people would not be able to afford a new $750 iPhone each year, it is not ideal for EpiPen users to spend such large amounts of money on EpiPens. Of course, the outstanding difference between the two situations is that an EpiPen can be the difference between life and death.
Since the cost may be out of reach, some EpiPen users are faced with a dilemma. Because EpiPens must be replaced periodically due to expiration, whether or not they have been used, EpiPens users struggling with the prices are forced to question if renewing the device is worth it if they are only to be used in a hypothetical situation. Acalanes school nurse Dvora Citron full-heartedly believes that it is worth it.
“It’s insurance. And when you buy insurance, you don’t hope that you’re going to use it. We certainly don’t buy car insurance hoping we are going to get into a car accident,” Citron said. “I know that there are a lot of people out there who are walking around with expired EpiPens, who are just praying and hoping that nothing bad happens because they aren’t able to buy new ones.”
Just as some car users choose to go without insurance, or some bike riders choose to go without a helmet, numerous people who suffer from life threatening allergies choose to go without the support of an EpiPen.
However, Acalanes is fortunate enough to be supported by “EpiPens4Schools,” a program that accommodates the EpiPen needs of schools that apply. Despite this, many EpiPen users remain without the financial needs to access this life-saving tool.
In addition to being financially burdensome, EpiPen consumers such as Olivia Lazatin, a cardiovascular nurse at John Muir Concord, claims that selling the life saving device at such a high rate is flat out unethical.
“What they’re doing is morally wrong [and] it’s very frustrating. The manufacturer is profiting off of the sickness of others. They are making it difficult for the public to have access to a life-saving emergency treatment,” Lazatin said.
Lazatin suffers from a severe allergy to latex, making her reactive to bananas, kiwis, and avocados–all of which share an enzyme with latex that can cause an anaphylactic reaction. As a result of her allergy, she has used an EpiPen on herself twice in the past.
“When you’ve experienced firsthand what it’s like when your body is shutting down, you’ll never want to experience that again,” Lazatin said. “It’s depressing to think that something so necessary that can completely reverse the effects of anaphylaxis and ultimately save a life is so out of reach mainly due to the price.”
The origin of the EpiPen price hikes can be traced back to 2007, the year in which Mylan Pharmaceuticals established itself as manufacturer of the EpiPen. The company continued to raise the wholesale price gradually in the years following.
In response to backlash against the price increases, including a petition to Congress that has garnered thousand of signatures, Mylan has released a general statement via the company website claiming that they have good intentions to benefit the consumers when it comes to the EpiPen industry, and that the price increase is to be expected.
“With the current changes in the healthcare insurance landscape, an increasing number of people and families have enrolled in high deductible health plans. This current and ongoing shift has presented new challenges for consumers, and now they are bearing more of the cost. This new change to the industry is not an easy challenge to address, but we recognize the need and are committed to working with customers and payers to find solutions to meet the needs of the patients and families we serve,” the company said.
However, several consumers found it outraging that Mylan claimed to have their customers’ best interests at heart and that the high prices were necessary in order to produce such a necessary product, while Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, took home a salary of $19 million last year.
“The reason they can [raise the prices] is because they have a monopoly on the market. They have a patent on the delivery system, but not the medication it delivers,” Lazatin said.
Lazatin notes something that other pharmaceutical companies are starting to take advantage of: Mylan does not own the life-saving drug epinephrine. Therefore, so companies have begun efforts to develop a safe and reliable alternative option to EpiPen that could solve a lot of problems for EpiPen users who find the current prices unreasonable.
Taking advantage of the scandal surrounding Mylan’s prices, Imprimis Pharmaceuticals (IMMY) recently announced the company’s plans to release a cheaper alternative to the EpiPen. IMMY claims that the EpiPen substitute will cost around $100 and is estimated to be ready by the end of 2016.
Mark Baum, the founder of IMMY, further exposed Mylan’s prices as outrageous in a recent interview in which he revealed that one milligram of epinephrine, which is three times the amount found in one EpiPen, costs a mere few dollars.
In further efforts to win back the support of EpiPen consumers, Mylan responded to the competition by announcing plans for their own new generic version of the EpiPen. Mylan’s alternative is to cost roughly $300.
“We need to figure out better ways to make and manufacture EpiPens. Things like fundraisers and awareness are all things that could [in the long run] help lessen the price,” Peck said.
For the time being, EpiPen users like Peck can only hope that a concrete alternative to the EpiPen that proves to be as reliable, safe, and effective, yet hopefully not as costly, will soon present itself.
Students at Acalanes with life threatening allergies can see school nurse Dvora Citron to obtain and fill out forms notifying the school that you may require an EpiPen, and/or that you carry one with you. Citron wants Acalanes students to know that it’s never too late to take these precautions to ensure that your teachers and administrators are aware that, in the case of an allergen related emergency, you require an EpiPen. Emergency EpiPens are located in the main office as well.