Allergies kill: Yet people die simply due to the cost of an Epi-Pen!

I am very fortunate in that I live in Canada, and have extended health benefits that cover the majority of my prescriptions.

The following video, of a news report in the USA, is causing shock waves. People who don’t live with the need for Epi-Pens have no idea of their cost.

There have been several reported incidents of anaphylaxis in restaurants recently where the restaurants or their staff are being sued. However, in most of these cases, the allergic person did not have their Epi-pens on them. See this report and my previous post as examples.

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When reading these reports I found this reprehensible. I can’t imagine not having my Epi-pens on me at all times.

I actually often need two so I have to carry them in pairs. I have a pair in my purse, a pair in the door pocket to my car (as there is no way that I would be able to get in my purse safely while driving), a pair in my office and an extra pair that I keep near me at all times.

If you count that up, that’s 8 Epi-Pens that I have to maintain and ensure that they are still usable.  Epi-Pens, like all medications, have an expiry date – usually of 1-2 years.

However, I’d never really considered the cost of this. In my case, my Epi-Pens cost just over $100 CAD each. So that’s $800 of medication that I need at all times. Ironically, it’s also the one medication that I hope that I don’t have to use and that I do get to dispose of safely because it has expired.

However, as this video demonstrates many people with life threatening allergies are going without their Epi-Pens because they simply can’t afford them. At a cost of almost $600 USD for a pair, I can understand that. That would be $2400 USD to ensure safety in the way that I do for myself.

Of course, I could choose to have just one pair and to clip them to my body so that they’re always on me rather than to have 4 different pairs. In fact, that’s what I do when I’m travelling (although I always have an extra pair in my emergency medical anaphylaxis kit for travel as back-up as well).

Most people, who need them, only need to carry one. However, at a cost for many of $300 USD for that one pen I have more of an understanding as to why they don’t always have it on them.

The bizarre part is that the drug itself only costs cents. It’s the auto-injector that costs the bulk of the fee.

As a result, I do know of people who will actually carry standard syringes and bottles of epinephrine instead. The problem with this is the inherent risk of using needles generally but more importantly I know from experience that it’s hard enough to get somebody else to give you an Epi-Pen there’s no way that most people would be able, or willing, to give you a standard injection.

So in this scenario, the allergic person is assuming that they would be able to self-inject. Of all my anaphylaxis I’d say that it is about 50:50 as to whether or not I was able to self-inject. The odds are deteriorating as my allergic reaction now is incredibly fast so self-injection is certainly not something that I can count on.

An untreated anaphylactic response can kill between 5-30 minutes. There’s no time to waste.

The auto-injector has saved many lives, including my own.

I understand that the research involved in developing it was phenomenally expensive and that the developers need to recover their cost, and make enough profit to help underwrite the cost of more research.

Yet, there is something inherently wrong with society when the cost of a life-saving medication is prohibitive to those that literally need it to survive.

There has to be a better way.

In the meantime, I am beyond grateful for my own privilege and will never again, take for granted my ability to have multiple Epi-Pens to hand. They’ve saved my life before and I’m sure that they will again.

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