How EpiPens' spiraling prices speak to healthcare's inefficiencies — 5 insights

Almost a decade ago, pharmaceutical company Mylan acquired and began selling EpiPen, a life-saving drug used to combat allergic reactions.

Although the drug has significantly less costly alternatives, EpiPen is widely used and illustrates many of healthcare's dysfunctions, according to an article The New York Times published by Aaron Carroll, MD, the associate director for research and a pediatric associate professor in the Children's Health Services Research Program at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

Here are five insights:

1. On the packaging, Mylan stated users needed to replace EpiPen each year, prompting the FDA to put forth a mandate that EpiPens be sold in packages instead. Mylan complied with the FDA and began selling twin-backs, although the company raised its price.

2. The FDA also updated its recommendation to allow at-risk patients to have a prescription for the EpiPen, rather than only for those with confirmed allergies.

3. EpiPen's competitors, the Adrenaclick and Twinject, were taken off shelves in 2012 and another company, Sanofi, stopped selling its Auvi-Q devices after it was discovered the instructions gave potentially improper doses.

4. As of May 2016, EpiPen's prices surpassed $600 a pack. After taking inflation into account, recent estimates claim the pens' price jumped more than 450 percent since 2004. Now, Adrenaclick is back on the market. Although cheaper, it is harder to use and many insurance plans do not list the medication as approved. Pharmacists often cannot swap Adrenaclick for EpiPen because Adrenaclick is not a generic version of the EpiPen.

5. Many people need EpiPen, but the FDA and other government agencies are not putting forth efforts to lower the drug's soaring prices. Due to high prices, some Americans will not purchase the drug for financial reasons. "EpiPens are a perfect example of a health care nightmare. They're also just a typical example of the dysfunction of the American health care system," Dr. Carroll wrote.

More articles on quality & infection control:
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How to effectively communicate adverse events to family members — 5 things to know

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