EpiPens are like an insurance policy for those who suffer from life threatening allergies; to do without it is like a daily game of Russian roulette.
With EpiPens costing some patients more than $600, it may not be a surprise that people are looking for a way around the high prices.
“My whole life is carrying the EpiPen so when the cost goes up, it automatically affects our family,” Jennifer Savant said.
Savant’s three children are severely allergic to almost everything. Most family meals are made at home but even that is sometimes risky.
“When we go anywhere they usually have some kind of reaction,” Savant said.
Savant’s children are ages five, seven and 11 years old. According to the most recent San Diego County Health data, Anaphylaxis cases have increased the greatest among 10-14 year olds with an increase of up to 783%.
Overall, emergency room visits for anaphylaxis increased by 265% from 2006 to 2014, according to the county health data.
EpiPens are prescribed to patients whose allergies are so severe they could experience Anaphylactic Shock, a whole-body allergic reaction that can kill in just minutes.
EpiPen’s price climb started in 2011. The two-pen pack went from around $150 to a little over $600 in May.
For mobile users, click here to see EpiPen prices since 2011.
Most EpiPens have an expiration date of one year. With the price climbing, NBC 7 Investigates found some seem willing to put that expiration date to the test in an online market for nearly expired EpiPens.
On Craiglist, one pair of EpiPens expiring in April 2017 was being sold on Craigslist for $50. Another EpiPen pack from San Jacinto expires next month but can be bought for just one dollar. The seller told NBC 7 Investigates he's sympathetic to those who can't afford it.
Diana Zuckerman, a doctor with the National Center for Health Research, says such transactions usually go under the radar but buyers should be beware.
“We don’t know what’s going on with those EpiPens,” Zuckerman said. “Are they real? Do they actually have epinephrine, the drug they are supposed to have? Is it the right dosage?”
Savant says she'll keep prescriptions for up to two months past expiration, sometimes using the pens for practice, other times, it’s just extra peace of mind.
“It would be better to have an old EpiPen then have none at all but that shouldn't be the choice,” Dr. Zuckerman said.
Mylan, the company that distributes EpiPen, has recently defended it’s pricing for EpiPens. The company is now offering coupons and announced plans to offer a generic version for 50% less.
“This isn’t an EpiPen issue; this isn’t a Mylan issue; this is a healthcare issue,” Mylan CEO Heather Bresch said in an August 25th interview with CNBC. “The irony is that the system incentivizes higher prices.”
NBC 7 Investigates emailed and phoned Mylan for a response to this story but have yet to hear back from the company.
Last week, a group of legislators introduced the FAIR drug pricing act, saying it is the first step in addressing skyrocketing prescription drug prices. The bill would require transparency and accountability from pharmaceutical corporations that plan to increase drug prices.
NBC 7 Investigates has learned some local schools have depended on Mylan for years for stocking EpiPens on their campuses in case of a student emergency.
To learn more about EpiPens’ impact on local school campuses, click here.