The Rising Cost of EpiPens and Disparities in Life-Saving Medicine

Laura Weber Davis/WDET

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed

EpiPen is like Kleenex in the allergy medicine world, a brand name so widely used it’s synonymous with the product itself. There are no big generic alternatives to EpiPen, leaving room for drug-maker Mylan to jack up the price of EpiPen by 500 percent over a seven-year period.

The lifesaving epinephrine shot now costs hundreds of dollars for a single use. And this is the second time we’ve heard of this type of price-gouging for lifesaving drugs in recent months. Investor Martin Shkreli became infamous for doing the same thing with another drug. Now drug manufacturer Mylan is receiving some heat as well for its pricing strategy.

[Mylan] really went on a big marketing campaign… and started jacking up the price, little by little,” says Alison Kodjak, the health policy correspondent for NPR.

After strong criticism over the pricing, Mylan announced plans to produce a generic form of the EpiPen at a lower cost.

In a recent NPR report Kodjak explained:

The company says the generic will hit the market in a few weeks and cost $300 for a two-pack. That’s less than half the price of a two-pack of brand-name EpiPens, which are available at pharmacies operated by CVS inside Target stores for about $630, according to GoodRX….

Mylan’s latest move is meant to calm the anger of consumers and lawmakers, but it may also be a shrewd business decision.

By bringing a generic to the market now, it could preemptively steal some market share away from Teva Pharmaceuticals, which is developing its own generic EpiPen. That device is expected to be approved in 2017.

Markets work for a lot of really great things,” like sneakers and other everyday products, says Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, executive director of the Detroit Health Department. ”[But] at some point we need to be honest about the fact that medications and healthcare don’t fit market systems very well.”

El-Sayed says the people who are most affected by costly medications are those who can’t afford the price hike out of pocket.

If you have inequalities in society, those inequalities are going to fundamentally manifest in health.” 

An African American man in the city of Detroit can expect to live 12 years shorter than a white man in the suburbs, says El-Sayed. And he says that has to do with the causes of health problems, including racism and stress. He says it’s a vicious cycle.

Poor health also drives poverty,” he says. “Healthcare is an important aspect of that… [and providers must ask] how can we interrupt inter-generational poverty?”

To hear more of the conversation on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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