The maker of a life-saving medicine injector and its chief are in hot water with the government for pumping up the price of its patented product.
MARKETED as the EpiPen and sold in boxes of two, the injector pushes a hollow needle into the muscle of a person who is having a severe allergic attack—maybe from eating the wrong kind of food like peanuts, maybe a bee sting or even a reaction to taking some other drug. Such allergic attacks can be really scary and even kill a person! An EpiPen quickly delivers just the right dose of a drug called epinephrine and there’s one for smaller kids, too.
The drug increases the person’s blood pressure by narrowing blood vessels and making the heart beat faster. At the same time, it relaxes muscles in the lungs so the person can breathe better, and it reduces hives and swelling that might happen during a bad allergic reaction.
Mylan and its head, Heather Bresch, bought the rights to the EpiPen in 2007. Back then it cost just $100 for two of the injectors. The demand continues to grow, especially since American schools are required to have a set (Mylan gives a set to schools for free.) Unfortunately, the epinephrine is only effective for a year, so new EpiPens are needed every year. But for its paying customers, Mylan has increased prices dramatically. And when the price was hiked to more than $600 per pair, users started complaining to Congress.
Bresch was brought before a House of Representatives committee on Sept. 21 to answer questions on whether Mylan is overcharging for larger profits.
She testified that she’s greatly troubled by the controversy over EpiPen. “Price and access (to a medicine) exist in balance, and we believe we have struck that balance,” Bresch told the committee. In Europe, which controls the price of medicine more, EpiPens are $100 to $150.