Brad Eeren remembers when the camp nurse pierced his upper thigh with a needle of life-saving epinephrine.
Eeren, a junior criminal justice and criminology major at the University of Maryland, has learned to be careful with his airborne allergy to peanuts and tree nuts since going into anaphylactic shock as a fifth grader at summer camp. All it took to be rushed to the hospital was sharing a fishing rod with someone who had eaten a peanut butter sandwich earlier that day.
“You’re in such shock it’s hard to even feel anything,” Eeren said. “It’s very scary.”
Despite EpiPen manufacturer Mylan N.V.’s announcement Monday that it will offer a pair of generic EpiPens at a 50 percent discount — $300 instead of about $600 — Maryland legislators such as Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Elijah Cummings have expressed criticism of the pharmaceutical company’s prices in recent weeks. The price hike to about $600 in May marked nearly a 500 percent increase from when Mylan first purchased EpiPen in 2007, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Jason Chaffetz, chairman on the House’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Cummings, a ranking committee member, called on Mylan for transparency earlier on Monday, sending a letter requesting a committee briefing “to help us better understand the increasing cost of the EpiPen” no later than close of business on Sept. 6. They requested other financial documents such as net revenue, sales and any funding through state and federal programs by this month as well.
“While families and schools are struggling to keep up with your company’s unreasonable price increases, Mylan has profited richly from its pricing strategy,” Cummings and Chaffetz wrote. “Your company made EpiPen its first billion-dollar product, generating $1.19 billion in sales revenue for the company’s specialty drug segment in 2014.”
Before announcing the discounted generic brand on Monday, Mylan said on Aug. 25 it would lower out-of-pocket costs to some patients needing EpiPens. Cummings released a public statement that same day on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform site that the change wasn’t enough.
“Offering a meager discount only after widespread bipartisan criticism is exactly the same tactic used by drug companies across the industry to distract from their exorbitant price increases,” Cummings said in the statement. “… Drug company CEOs are using a corrupt business model to profit off of our most vulnerable citizens and using them like ATMs. I will continue to fight to ensure that all Americans can afford the drugs they need.”
Mylan is the only FDA-approved manufacturer of EpiPens on the market. With the price of EpiPens out of reach for many Americans, some have resorted to pushing EpiPens past their one-year shelf life — including junior broadcast journalism student Ryan Sevel.
“I always have one in my backpack, one in my apartment and two in my room,” said Sevel, who can have trouble breathing from the smell of peanuts. “I think they’re all expired at this point — the medicine would still be good, you just wouldn’t be able to sue them if it didn’t work.”
Others aren’t as willing to take that risk.
“For the risk of having an expired one, it’s not worth the risk — for me that means death,” Eeren said. “No matter what I have to keep paying the price. The only reason they get away with it is because it’s a life-saving device. … The company is taking such clear advantage of their customers.”
Both Sevel and Eeren have researched alternative brands, including Auvi-Q, a thin red square injector the size of a cigarette box. But Auvi-Q tanked after a manufacturer quality review found the injector administered inaccurate dosage and was recalled.
“If more companies begin competing with EpiPen, you’re going to see a reduced rate, you’re going to see competitive pricing,” Sevel said.
Until then, people are being forced to pay the price to keep their loved ones safe, said Tina Thorburn, nursing supervisor of this university’s health center.
“If it were me … even if they hadn’t lowered the price by half, and it was going to save my kid’s life, you better believe I’d be getting it,” Thorburn said.
Mylan could not be reached for comment.