Families and members of the health sector in the United States are currently in uproar over the exploding cost of the EpiPen, which has gone up from (U.S.) $93 in 2007 to today’s reported $608 for a two-pack of the familiar auto-injector device. The news comes at a time when the prevalence of food allergies around the world is on the rise.
“The AMA has long urged the pharmaceutical industry to exercise reasonable restraint in drug pricing,” said American Medical Association president Dr. Andrew Gurman in a recent news release. “And, with lives on the line, we urge the manufacturer to do all it can to rein in these exorbitant costs.”
Used to treat medical conditions such as anaphylaxis and cardiac arrest, the EpiPen is a product of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, which recently responded to criticism over its price hikes -reportedly occurring up to three times yearly over the past decade- by stating that it would begin to offer financial assistance to some patients to help with out-of-pocket expenses.
“We have been a long-term, committed partner to the allergy community and are taking immediate action to help ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen Auto-Injector gets one,” said Mylan’s chief executive, Heather Bresch, in a statement that has failed to quell public outrage that has come in the wake of the Turing Pharmaceuticals and Valeant Pharmaceuticals pricing scandals, which raised the ire of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
Health advocates say pricing spikes are not a factor here, where drugs pricing is controlled by a federal review board
The controversy has raised concerns from patients and families in Canada about the affordability of the EpiPen, which commands a virtual monopoly over the market in North America and is distributed in Canada by Pfizer. But health advocates say pricing spikes are not a factor here, where drugs pricing is controlled by a federal review board. “The regulatory pricing system here is different than in the U.S.,” says Laurie Harada, executive director for Food Allergy Canada, “and so we have not seen huge increases for the device year over year.
But as parents begin the yearly back-to-school rituals, more and more of them are having to deal with food allergies afflicting their children. Not only in Canada and the US but worldwide, the prevalence of food allergies has increased markedly over the past half-century and is showing no signs of slowing down, currently affecting up to 30 to 35 per cent of the population in industrialized countries around the world.
Allergy UK, an allergy support organization, reports an estimated 50 per cent of children in the United Kingdom are now diagnosed with an allergic condition. And the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports that more than 17 million Europeans have food allergies, with hospitals having witnessed a seven-fold increase in admissions over the past decade for children with severe reactions.
In Canada, approximately 2.5 million people suffer from food allergies, representing 7.5 per cent of the population. A recent study from McGill University found that the percentage of emergency room visits by children for anaphylaxis has doubled over a four-year period between 2011 and 2015, based on data collected from Montreal Children’s Hospital.
The precise cause of the global trend is not known, with experts citing environmental factors, antibiotics, food additives and changes to health practices as potential contributors.
Below: Mylan CEO Faces Calls to Explain 400% EpiPen Increase (Bloomberg)