Allergist Offers Alternatives, Advice To Those In Sticker Shock Over EpiPen Prices

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Mylan Pharmaceuticals has been in the spotlight lately for hiking the price of a life-saving allergy medicine, but even with a reduced price, EpiPens still cost hundreds of dollars.

So, are there less expensive options?

Julie Surman, of McCandless, needs EpiPens for her son who has allergies to peanuts, cashews and pistachios. The device gives emergency rescue medicine for severe allergic reactions.

But what Surman doesn’t need are the rising prices, which have gone up four-fold in the last four years.

“All told, it was $500 for one two-pack. I need about three of them,” said Surman. “One for school, one for my caregiver, one for my mom, and one for us.”

While she’s trying to build up the family’s health savings account to cover the cost, it doesn’t help her right now.

“On top of all the other expenses of raising two children, that’s just unaffordable,” Surman says.

Dr. Deborah Gentile, an allergist at Allegheny General Hospital, has been fielding patient calls from anxious parents.

“It’s terrible. I see this every day… and multiple members of the family getting these filled. And a two-pack is $600, and their out of pocket costs can be phenomenal,” said Dr. Gentile.

If you think it’s bad now with back to school refills, it could get worse in the new year when employers’ insurance plans change.

“Maybe last year you were covered, and this year you went to get it, and all of a sudden, it’s going to be $800 for two children. I’ve had that happen,” Dr. Gentile said.

Are there any alternatives? Epinephrine itself, the actual medicine in EpiPens, is not expensive, and you could have some on hand to draw up for emergency use. But in the heat of the moment, that can be stressful.

Some other drug makers have been working on generics, but they are not yet FDA approved.

Dr. Gentile recommends using the manufacturer’s financial assistance programs, or getting samples from the doctor if you don’t qualify for help.

“The parents know they need the medication, but they struggle with the finances of it,” she says.

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Another option is waiting a few weeks. EpiPen maker, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, is coming out with a generic that is exactly like brand name EpiPen.

“The reason why it doesn’t need to undergo FDA approval is because they’re going to use the exact same device. That’s what’s under patent,” Dr. Gentile said.

Surman says her family budget will have to be adjusted.

“To make it that expensive to save your child doesn’t make sense. They need to make that affordable,” she says. “You can’t put a price on it when you have to use it, but if you’re not using it – luckily, we haven’t had to – but it’s sort of money tossed away.”

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