The true cost of big medicine

When I became a mom, I didn’t know what would be in store. Would I eventually become the typical picture of a “soccer mom”—with sports drinks and cleats littering the floorboards of my SUV? Would I be the parent of a musician, carting my son around to band practice? A mom of all boys? A cool mom? An embarrassing mom? My dreams were plentiful, but they didn’t include what I’ve recently become:

A food allergy mom.

As the parent of a child with serious food allergies, there is a hot topic in the news that has really pushed all my buttons. You may have heard about the EpiPen price hike, but if not, let me give you the high level overview.

The EpiPen is a life-saving device that people with anaphylactic reactions to allergens require in order to survive after being exposed to the allergen. It’s an injection device you administer to the affected person’s leg. Remember that scene in Signs where Mel Gibson just straight up stabs the thing into his son’s leg after the kid had an asthma attack? That’s what we’re talking about here. Except, for most people, Mel isn’t there, and aliens aren’t invading.

As recently as four years ago, the EpiPen cost $100. Now, it has a $600 price tag. Six hundred dollars, folks. And, after hopefully going unused for a year, they abruptly expire.

The manufacturer, Mylan, hasn’t explained why the price is so astronomically high, and they happen to own 94% of the market share. This means they’re price gauging, and they’re doing it at the cost of precious lives.

To be honest, I’m embarrassed to share a name with the CEO of Mylan. Harsh? Not at all. I fully understand that she’s doing her job, and I have a deep knowledge of how the corporate world operates. I work in it. I understand that when you have a complete monopoly on a product, you have to raise the price or you’ll probably be fired for what would be misconstrued as a lack of leadership skills. But, do you have to raise it 400%? Do you have to take home a $19 million salary? Honestly, how do you sleep at night?

I’m fired up about this because Russell had an appointment with the allergy doctor yesterday. His tiny back was covered in pin pricks so that we could—finally—nail down what has been causing him so many troubles. You may remember he was a colicky nightmare for the first part of his life, suffered from severe acid reflux, broke out with inexplicable hives, and had several recent anaphylactic episodes. If you don’t remember, here’s a refresher.

The appointment confirmed that he has a severe allergy to milk and egg. You know, the things that are in, basically, everything. We’re not talking about the type of intolerance where he will have stomach troubles if he eats some cheese. We’re talking about the type of allergy where he will stop breathing if he has a drop of milk.

It’s serious, and it’s scary. But, that’s why there are things like epinephrine injectors.

russell-with-watermark

As part of my initiation into the Parents of Kids With Food Allergies Club, I did a lot of research, and I read countless accounts of people who survived allergen episodes ONLY because of their EpiPens.

But, with the price what it now is, how can people afford it? For many, it’s literally a choice of life over death. And that is not an exaggeration.

For some parents, they will have to choose buying an EpiPen to have around just in case over paying the electric bill for the month. For single-income parents and those living under the poverty line, the EpiPen that could save their child’s life has to be purchased over sending another child to summer camp or putting gas in the car.

Parents have enough on their plates. When they lay down to sleep at night, they shouldn’t have to worry about how they’ll afford the small device that could save their son’s life. They shouldn’t have to figure out how they’ll pay for both an EpiPen and the heat to keep their home warm in the winter.

Because, let’s not forget something very important: the medicine in EpiPens is cheap. Folks, epinephrine is cheaper than a meal at a fast food restaurant.

According to Mark Baum, whose company is famous for offering lower-priced substitutes for life-saving drugs and is working on an EpiPen of their own, one milligram of epinephrine (three times more than what’s needed in an EpiPen) costs just a few dollars.

“The cost of epinephrine is literally less than a Big Mac,” he told CNN. “We don’t have the desire to charge the public even $300 for something that costs so little. That’s not how I want to live my life.”

Thankfully, there are people out there who are working on a solution. And if something good will come out of all this, it’s the fact that EpiPens have now become a household name.

It is my hope that, instead of gauging the public for a drug that has existed for years, big companies will spend money on finding a cure for these allergens. I’m thankful we live in a country where we have access to the medicine we need, but when you consider the fact that I could walk across the border and buy an EpiPen from Canada for a hundred bucks, it’s hard to say that nothing is wrong. And, it’s hard to keep quiet.

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3 Comment

  1. For a fifty year old, I am blessed that neither of my children had such serious allergies. But I feel horrible for what my mother experienced. Back in the day of Dr’s making house calls, I was given an injection on penicillin. We lived 2 block’s from saint Francis, or I would have died when I was 5. Then came bee stings. You get the idea. Also, as a medical assistant, I’m all to familiar with people who cannot afford medication. I think it’s a disgrace that this new generation of parent’s, all these years later, are faced with the possibility of choosing their child’s life over a house payment or groceries. It makes me sad.

  2. I agree totally! I have heard that there is a generic one! You might check into it!

  3. […] you haven’t heard everything going on in the world of Mylan, the EpiPen manufacturer, you can read my earlier post. Basically, the company increased the cost of the device to an astronomical amount not seen in […]

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