EpiPen price controversy continues

A large increase in the price of the EpiPen has made headlines across the nation. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

One pack is $600.

It’s the price tag that has been making headlines across the nation. It’s the price of a pack of EpiPens, which contains two of the devices used for immediate treatment of severe allergic reactions.

This price increase did not happen overnight, rather over the course of years that saw steady price hikes. 

USF professor and Executive Vice President of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) Thomas Casale said he thinks people are talking about EpiPen costs now because the price increase has become so large, with some news organizations reporting the increase as over 400 percent.

“I think part of the problem with (the price increase) is that it’s an absolutely essential medication for people that need it,” he said.

The increase in prescriptions drug costs is not just an EpiPen problem. Increasing drug costs, Casale said, are due to many different reasons including lack of competition and the cost of creating a drug. The cost, he said, can be over $1 billion.

The company that produces EpiPens, Mylan, has faced immense pressure from politicians, consumers and members of the media to make EpiPens more affordable.

The company offers coupons to those with health insurance that can affect cost, depending on the patient’s insurance copay. Recently, however, Mylan announced plans to release a generic version of EpiPens that is estimated to cost about $300 a pack by the company for pharmacies to buy.

Casale said he thinks the generic is “a step in the right direction”, although he would like to see the price of the generic go down.

“… It’s still very expensive for a lot of people,” he said.

The expense of individual packs can create financial burdens for people, Casale said, and some patients need to buy multiple packs to keep EpiPens in different locations in case of an emergency, raising the cost to $1,200 or more for some patients. Moreover, the prescriptions have to be refilled annually.

What EpiPen users are paying for is not the actual medicine inside of the injector, which is called epinephrine (or adrenaline), Casale said.

Instead, he said, they are paying for the device around the epinephrine, which injects the proper dosage with the proper needle length when patients use it. The device is designed to be an immediate response to an unexpected allergic reaction.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “You just pop the cork and just stick it in your leg and it automatically delivers (epinephrine) … so there’s no thinking about it, which is what you need in an emergency situation.” 

Other options available to those who need EpiPens are few as Mylan has little competition.

Casale said some physicians are giving patients syringes with the proper dosages of epinephrine and wrapping the syringes in aluminum foil. The shelf life is only a few months, but the cost is much less. The difference in shelf life has to do with the protection of epinephrine from light and heat, both of which can break it down.

Another alternative is Adrenaclick, a less expensive emergency medicine for severe allergic reactions. Casale said the cost of Adrenaclick is lower with coupons but most physicians don’t know about it.

Many times, the cost of a prescription is too much for patients and the patients won’t fill their prescriptions, according to Casale. He encouraged speaking with a health professional to try to find lower cost alternatives.

 “I’m not a big proponent of it, but, I would rather you carry that syringe and needle than not have anything,” he said.

Xilma Lemois, the pharmacist at the Bulls Country Pharmacy in the Marshall Student Center, said the EpiPen cost for students through the USF Pharmacy is not too far off from other prices.

The pharmacy acquires EpiPens at a cost of $579 through a subsidized contract with Cardinal Health, and sells the packs at a cost of $599.63 for those without insurance. Lemois said the pharmacy, if Mylan’s generic EpiPen were to cost $300 from the manufacturer, would sell the generic to students for around $320 upon its release. 

“Our price could be completely different than another company,” she said.

As far as the number of prescriptions written, Lemois did not have an exact number, but she said it isn’t something she has seen in high demand through the USF pharmacy.

Casale said he feels it is important to advocate for affordable prescription medication. 

“If we have the ability to help people and we have the medication to treat them, hopefully we can find a way to make it so that everybody can have access to care and to medication that they require,” he said.