The EpiPen.  This device, containing an injection of epinephrine used on people with severe food allergies, has recently sparked much debate and controversy.  Without this injection, the result for someone with this type of allergy can be fatal. So you can imagine the emotions created when the price of this lifesaving drug increased by 400%. This dramatic increase drove the reported cost of the EpiPen to $600 for consumers and they were outraged. According to an article on the New York Times blog, parents who found it beneficial to keep one pen at home and one at school for emergencies were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to afford the drug for their children.

The price increase won’t affect everyone, just the consumers who pay out of pocket or have high deductibles. Parents have voiced their outrage stating that their insurance companies require them to meet deductibles in amounts of $5,000 or more before insurance would pay for the much-needed drug. In the meantime, they would have to pay out of pocket for a necessary drug that many cannot afford on a household income of $40,000 annually.

Mylan Labs, the pharmaceutical company that makes the EpiPen,  has rationalized the price increase by claiming it is needed to recover research and development costs.  As the EpiPen has been around for some time, this justification did not seem reasonable to a very wide range of consumers, legislatures and multiple analysts.

As a result of the firestorm over the price increase, Mylan responded  by offering an alternative to the high-cost drug with a generic version at a much lower cost. This alternative could reduce the profits of their branded drug , but makes the drug more affordable for many consumers.  Mylan also created more awareness for the consumer on how to pursue rebates or cost assistance that they offer.

Offering the generic version could relieve the pressure that Mylan has been under lately, but this issue will continue to raise concerns on many fronts within the pharmaceutical industry regarding pricing of potentially lifesaving drugs.  As a consumer, the best available solution in the interim is to maintain awareness of the cost of any prescription drug even before ordering it, knowing the options for less expensive alternatives (such as generics) and exploring cost assistance often provided by the manufacturers.  Much of this information should be available through your family physician or other health care provider.