Personal Health

While You Wait for Mylan to Drop Its Prices, Here Are Some EpiPen Alternatives for Allergy Problems

Believe it or not, there are alternatives—some risky, some inconvenient, and some worth the effort.

Photo Credit: Greg Friese / Flickr

The EpiPen brand is synonymous with saving lives. Like Kleenex or Chapstick, the EpiPen is the ubiquitous drug people turn to when it comes to treating potentially lethal allergic reactions. Part of what defines such a quality in a product is its consistency and reliability. At least, that should be the case.

This is the issue consumers recently faced when it was brought to light that Mylan, the pharmaceutical company that acquired the EpiPen patent in 2007, had raised the drug’s price from around $100 to $600.

Unfortunately (for now), there’s little that can be done about this price hike. So where does that leave someone who suffers from a deadly bee allergy yet is unable to afford the drug’s new price? A recent Consumer Reports article had some answers.

The EpiPen is typically used when a person experiencing an allergic reaction stops breathing, a condition known as anaphylaxis. The appeal of the EpiPen is its easy-to-use patented technology, which allows people in an emergency to easily inject themselves with epinephrine, the drug that treats anaphylaxis. It's precisely here where Mylan gets you. As Consumer Reports notes, while epinephrine costs only “pennies to make,” it’s the self-injecting mechanism that bumps up the drug’s price—meaning the EpiPen has somewhat of a monopoly over the market. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives.

Tracy Bush, the mother of a 14-year-old boy who relies on the EpiPen to treat his food allergies, was interviewed by Consumer Reports. "Kids who rely on EpiPen need to have one on their person, one with their school's nurse, one or more at home, and often one with their teachers," said Bush. "At the start of the school year, we have to factor in our son's EpiPen costs with other school expenses, including supplies and clothing, making our budget extra tight."

In Bush’s case, by combining financial aid from her insurance company with a Mylan co-pay coupon, she was able to cover “a large portion of the costs.” In this instance, by co-paying with insurance, the coupon brings down the EpiPen’s price by up to “$100 per prescription (for up to a maximum of three two-pack cartons per prescription).” EpiPen also offers a patient assistance program for those without insurance—one that AlterNet's Martha Rosenberg has exposed as a ruse big pharma uses to justify price hikes.

There is, of course, a generic option too.

Consumer Reports suggests Adrenaclick as a good, cheaper alternative. For $142, this auto-injector, which contains the same dosage of epinephrine as EpiPen, can be purchased from Walmart and Sam’s Club using a coupon from GoodRx. The only difference between the two is the auto-injection technology, which Barbara Young of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists cautions consumers to be aware of.

“The key concern for using different epinephrine products is that patients may not be aware of differences in how you use the injector,” Young told Consumer Reports. Young suggested that those who purchase Adrenaclick ask their pharmacist to instruct them in how to properly use it “before leaving the pharmacy.” Good advice if you consider the importance of avoiding panic during an emergency.

There is another option Consumer Reports cautions against: manual self-dosage. Since an epinephrine vial can be purchased for a few dollars along with a syringe, some consumers have turned to homemade alternatives. It's important that those considering this option be made aware of the risks. Consumer Reports consulted experts who listed several precautions:

  • Make sure if you’re injecting yourself, you’re not getting too much or too little epinephrine.
  • Ensure you’re properly trained by a doctor or pharmacist to ensure efficacy, prior to using the syringe in an emergency situation.
  • Since there are different concentrations of epinephrine on the market, “getting the proper dose is critical, especially for children.” Once again, consult a pharmacist.
  • “Replace the syringe and epinephrine every few months because studies show the drug loses potency after just three months.”

It's clear from these warnings that this last option is not ideal. Unfortunately, for many Americans the risky option may be their only option, for now.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He tweets infrequently @RobScherHimself.