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Price of life-saving EpiPens a "major concern"

EpiPen prices in the United States have more than doubled over the past 10 years, leaving many patients who need the life-saving devices struggling with the cost. These are the findings of a recent report published by the University of Chicago, following analysis of nationwide data on people with employer-provided insurance. 

EpiPens are an emergency treatment for patients having a life-threatening allergic reaction and they are the most commonly used epinephrine auto-injectors on the market. Antihistamines such as Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Promethegan (promethazine) are often used to treat allergy symptoms, but EpiPens are used as an emergency counter to a severe reaction. These pocket-sized devices are carried by patients at risk of anaphylaxis, administering a dose of epinephrine in the event of an emergency.

“For EpiPens in particular, failing to fill a prescription due to cost could mean the difference between life or death when serious allergic reactions occur," warned lead study author Dr Kao-Ping Chua in an email to Reuters. The public health researcher claimed the release of a cheaper generic version of the EpiPen by pharmaceutical firm Mylan in December 2016 did not go far enough to reducing the cost of the drug for many patients. The cost-sharing required by their health plans leaves many patients struggling with hefty out-of-pocket expenses for generic EpiPens, he explained. 

The report found that the proportion of EpiPen users with out-of-pocket expenses of at least $100 rose from around one in 20 to nearly one in five between 2007 and 2014. Commenting on the data, Chua emphasized the importance of patients filling EpiPen prescriptions, noting that they often prove to be life-saving emergency medicines. "The major concern is that these increases [in price] may lead patients to forgo filling EpiPen prescriptions due to cost." Despite the prices rises, the study found there had been little change in the rate of EpiPen prescription fills. 

Last month, Mylan Pharmaceuticals issued a recall for EpiPens distributed between December 2015 and July 2016, citing a malfunction that prevents some devices from working correctly. If you are concerned your EpiPen may be one of those affected by the recall, click here to visit the Mylan website for more details. Anyone with a recalled EpiPen will be issued a voucher to collect a free replacement from their local pharmacy. It is important to regularly review and inspect your medication and ensure you correctly dispose of any past the expiration date. Patients with EpiPens should be particularly vigilant, as many people who carry one will not need to use it very often. If you have any concerns or questions about the condition of your EpiPen or other medication, contact your pharmacist or the drug's manufacturer.