Parents Panic over Life-Saving EpiPen Price Spike

Parents preparing for their children's return to school have yet another source of aggravation with which to deal. The cost of the life-saving EpiPen, a device that delivers an immediate dose of epinephrine to children suffering from a potentially fatal allergic reaction,  has exponentially increased.

Doctors and patients say the Mylan pharmaceutical company has jacked up the prices for an EpiPen — the portable device that can stop a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction — from around $100 in 2008 to $500 and up today.

That's a hike of over 400 percent.

"Patients are calling and saying they can't afford it," said Dr. Douglas McMahon, an allergy specialist in Maplewood, Minnesota. "They're between a rock and a hard place."

So what's the cause of the massive price increase? A "near monopoly" on the drug.

FILE- In an Oct. 4, 2013 file photo, an EpiPen is shown in Detroit. Every public school in Michigan would have to have special injectors to treat allergic reactions under legislation that has passed the state House. Legislators voted 96-10 on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 for a bill requiring schools by next year to have epinephrine devices, or EpiPens. The measure and another bill now head to the Senate. Supporters of the legislation say a quarter of anaphylactic shock incidents in schools occur among students unaware that they have an allergy. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, FILE)

Mylan's competitor, Sanofi, discontinued its version of the EpiPen, Auvi-Q, after dosage problems led to a recall.  Mylan's EpiPen is the only game in town. There is no generic version of the device, although researchers discovered the active element in the drug back in 1900.

Allergies are a lucrative business.

Because of aggressive marketing and branding campaigns, and lobbying for legislation that requires the product to be stocked in schools, they have a brand dominance equal to that of Kleenex, doctors say.

And since the drug has a shelf life of one year, a new one must be purchased.

One mother of a 14-year-old son with severe allergies carries two pens with her at all times and her son carries one. NBC News describes, " In 2008, the price was $145.99. In 2010, it was $220.99, then jumped to $649.99. This year her pre-insurance costs were $1,118.08."

What does Mylan have to say for its apparent price gouging? The company claims the product has "changed over time to better reflect important product features and the value the product provides," and that "we've made a significant investment to support the device over the past years." But the raw cost of the drug is mere pennies. "When epinephrine only costs a few cents, but they're going up to $500, personally I don't think that's ethically responsible," said Dr. McMahon.

Mylan's profits from its EpiPen product: $12 billion in 2015.