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Is $1,500 a year fair for an EpiPen® that costs dollars to make?

One of my family members has a life threatening food allergy—and they are far from alone. According to the foodallergy.org, one in thirteen children has a serious food allergy. People with food allergies practice avoidance…they simply do not consume the offending food. Those with severe allergies also avoid foods that may have come in contact or were produced in facilities that also produce the foods they need to avoid.

Sometimes allergic reactions happen anyway…either a person accidentally consumes a food that has the ingredient or another food has accidentally been contaminated with the allergenic food. When this happens, epinephrine is used to stop the massive reaction that follows. In the United States, epinephrine comes in a shot called an EpiPen®. The EpiPen® is an aptly named device that looks like a large marker. It is easy to use, small enough to fit in a purse or backpack, and can save the life of someone who is having a severe reaction to a food or insect sting. It has also become increasingly expensive.

By some estimates the cost of an EpiPen® has increased by 400 percent percent in the last five years. How much a parent pays for EpiPen®s often depends on the type of insurance they have. Our family, typical of many, has a high deductible. So last week, when I refilled our prescription, I paid over $500 for a set of two EpiPen®s. The allergist recommends that we get six: two for home, two for school, two for carrying around when we are out and about. Did I mention that was with a “coupon” that saved me over $100?

Fifteen hundred dollars per year (they expire after a year) is an insane amount of money to pay for a life-saving drug that has been around for decades and that costs just dollars to manufacture. I know, for sure, that families do without enough or hold on to expired meds far too long because the cost is so prohibitive. Schools, which in some states have been mandated to carry EpiPen®s are struggling to afford to stock the medication. Mylan is currently the only company that produces the EpiPen®. In 2015 Mylan reported profits from the sale of EpiPen® of over $1 billion.

Presently, there is little that can be done regarding the price. Other companies are working to make similar products that would ultimately drive down cost. Senator Bernie Sanders has spoken out against the price gouging and a petition to Congress has been set up so constituents can let their elected representatives know how they feel about the ridiculous out of pocket cost of this inexpensive drug. Until things change, parents need to budget for this yearly expense associated with their child’s food allergy. As a doctor, I am worried too many families will do without, putting their children at risk for death.

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