People with food allergies or those at risk for severe allergic reactions rely on EpiPens to provide life-saving treatment. Unfortunately, the rising cost of the device becomes too prohibitive that it starts to take a toll on the budget of the families who depend on it.
Some families now skip buying EpiPens because of its rising cost, and this could have potentially life-threatening consequences should allergic attacks occur.
"If they don't have [the EpiPen], it could mean life or death," said pharmacist Leon Tarasenko, adding that the high cost of the treatment now forces some families to take risks.
"Within the last two months, we've had about three patients who had issues with the price of an EpiPen. And we actually — they did not receive it. They just refused to take it."
Over the past seven years, the cost of EpiPen has risen by more than 480 percent. In 2009, pharmacies paid around $100 for a two-pack EpiPens, but the same package now costs over $600.
EpiPen is used to deliver epinephrine, a synthetic adrenaline that can counter the effects of severe allergic reactions. The drug adjusts blood pressure, improves breathing, reduces wheezing, boosts heart rate and minimizes hives or swelling caused by allergic reaction.
The drug only costs a couple of bucks, so the manufacturer of EpiPen in essence charges much for its trusted name.
Mylan, the manufacturer of the device, has virtual monopoly following the recall launched by its main competitor last fall. The company remarketed the decades-old device, spending millions of dollars on ads and donating the device to schools in the United States to ensure it becomes a familiar product.
Because of its efforts, the number of people who use EpiPens over the past seven years has increased by 67 percent. The product became a cash cow for the company accounting for about 40 percent of Mylan's operating profits. In 2015, about 3.6 million prescriptions were written for the epinephrine injector. Families with severe allergies stock EpiPens and replace them every year when they expire.
It was easy for the company to raise its price each year since it has established a brand name without much threat from competition.
The rising cost, however, has prompted some Americans who struggle with serious allergies to turn to risky alternatives such as carrying simple syringes filled with epinephrine. This costs only about $20, but accidentally injecting it into a vein instead of a muscle can be fatal. Some also stretch the devices past their expiration dates despite the drug becoming less effective after a year.