As parents get their children back in school, along with all the equipment and supplies they need for the classroom and sports, some parents are also purchasing EpiPens because their children have life-threatening allergic reactions.
But, according to Ben Popken of NBC News, parents back-to-school EpiPens are going to be more expensive than they were last year. Moms and dads of kids with severe allergies will discover that the price of an EpiPen, manufactured by the Mylan pharmaceutical company, has gone from approximately $100 in 2008 to $500 and up — an increase of 400%.
The EpiPen is a device that is portable and contains medication that can be injected to stop an allergic reaction that could potentially result in a life or death situation.
"Patients are calling and saying they can't afford it," said Dr. Douglas McMahon, an allergy specialist in Maplewood, Minnesota. "They're between a rock and a hard place."
Due to a recall by Mylan's chief competitor in 2015, the company is now experiencing a monopoly of sorts. Add to that the fact that the Mylan has lobbied to get the EpiPen stocked, free of charge, in all schools and has produced dynamic branding and marketing campaigns to create a "brand dominance" equal to the recognition of Kleenex, say physicians.
The pens are about the size of a large piece of chalk and are carried by parents, children, or stocked by school nurses so that they can be pushed into the child's thigh to send epinephrine for stopping anaphylactic shock from a possibly fatal bee sting or a bit of food.
The pens have an expiration date, which means that parents have to refill them each year. Tracy Bush, a food allergy consultant who carries two pens for her son and purchases another for her young one to put in his pocket, says the price in 2008 was $145.99. In 2010, it cost $220.99, then rose to $649.99. This year, she says, her pre-insurance costs for the EpiPen were $1,118.08.
Bush said she is glad to have the pens on hand, especially when a reaction occurs. For example, one day her son had trouble because of eating watermelon.
"He said it felt like a potato chip was caught in his throat. Then he got a look of terror on his face. His voice was totally different, it sounded like he had sucked helium. I was like âOh my goodness, I'm going to have to use an EpiPen,'" she said. "I will never forget the look that I saw."
CBS News reports that the price of the drug inside an EpiPen is only one or two dollars. Pharmacist Leon Tarasenko says the soaring cost of the pens is forcing some families to take the risk of not purchasing the device.
Mylan told CBS News that the pen's price has changed over time because of important added features and the high value the pen provides. The company says it has also made many notable investments to "support the device" in past years.
Michigan WOOD-TV's Barton Deiters points out that Mylan's stock rose from $18 per share to over $75 when it was at its peak.
EpiPen does offer a $100 coupon, but the pen's price of $550 makes the savings relatively small for families with no insurance or who are struggling to live on a low income.