Last year we were shocked and scandalized when Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of one prescription drug from an already high $13.50 per pill to an unbelievable $750. The world was up in arms. The internet exploded with outrage. People were calling for the CEO’s head on a platter and it was headline news for months. Congressional hearings were even held to address the matter.
But nothing happened.
Absolutely nothing. No charges were filed. No effort was made to force the drugmaker to lower the price. No one got so much as a slap on the wrist. CEO Martin Shkreli was arrested—but the arrest had nothing to do with raising the drug price by 5000%. He was arrested for securities fraud, not for price-gouging.
Of course we know price-gouging is nothing new when it comes to drugs. What was different about this case was the scope of it—5,000% rather than 50% or even 500%—and the sheer in-your-face audacity of the company that did it.
Sure, we’re ripping you off, they said. But because we’re such nice guys, we’re making sure folks who really can’t pay for it can still get it. As if that made it all ok. Eventually Turing cut the price to $375 per pill and boasted that they’d reduced the price by 50%. Nevermind the fact that it was still 2,500% more expensive than it was a year ago.
And still nothing has happened.
Well, nothing to discourage this kind of behavior anyway. What has happened is that Big Pharma has seen that it can raise prices exponentially and get away with it. That it can literally charge whatever it wants for a drug and people will continue to pay. Insurance companies will pay. Hospitals will pay. Individuals will pay. And there will be absolutely no consequences except a few scathing news stories and a lot of griping on social media.
So here we are today in the middle of another drug price-gouging scandal. This time the drug in question is the EpiPen. And while Turing’s drug Daraprim truly was a life-saver, it wasn’t an emergency drug.
The EpiPen is.
In situations where seconds literally mean the difference between life and death, the EpiPen can tip the balance. And now, a greedy pharmaceutical company has raised the price of this life-saving prescription so high that it’s out of reach or many people. People who could die from something as mundane as a bee sting or a crumb of peanut if they don’t have their EpiPen handy. Where does it end? When do we finally stand up and say, “Enough!”?
What good is a life-saving drug if you can’t afford it?
The EpiPen is basically a syringe filled with a dose of the hormone epinephrine. It’s used to treat something called anaphylactic shock. This is a life-threatening allergic reaction. In anaphylactic shock, the victim’s airways swell shut and they can’t breathe. Anaphylactic shock can—and does—kill literally within moments.
It can happen in response to anything a person is allergic to, but two of the most common triggers are bee stings and peanuts. A dangerously allergic person might die from a single bee sting, or from eating something which has simply touched a peanut.
It happens every day.
This is why so many foods carry warnings that they contain nuts, or have been packaged in a plant that also processes nuts. Because for some people, not knowing could be a death sentence.
This is where the EpiPen comes in. Dangerously allergic people carry an EpiPen with them at all times. That way if they do come in contact with their trigger—bee sting, peanuts, or something else—they can quickly inject themselves with epinephrine and survive long enough to get to the hospital.
The actual drug inside the EpiPen costs about a buck fifty and, at $110 for a package of two (they’re always sold and carried in pairs, in case the first one malfunctions) they already had a pretty hefty markup. But the drugmaker, Mylan, wasn’t satisfied with this already insane profit margin. Seeing how Shkreli—and others—had gotten off scot-free after multi-thousand-percent markups, they decided to jack the price up by several hundred dollars.
If you live in the U.S., EpiPens now cost a whopping $609. Meanwhile, the rest of the world still pays about a hundred bucks for a pair.
Life-saver or not, that’s more than some people can afford.
And the truly horrific thing about this whole situation is that allergies tend to run in families. So a person with a life-threatening peanut allergy is likely to have a child—or multiple children—who also have life-threatening peanut allergies. And each one needs to have their own EpiPen available at all times.
Imagine a family—and there are more families like this than you’d guess—in which one parent and three kids have life-threatening allergies. That means spending $2,400 or risking dying at the drop of a hat. Or even worse, choosing which kid gets to take the EpiPen to school with them (because you can only afford two), and which one has to take the risk.
That’s a choice no parent should ever have to make.
And here’s another thing: EpiPens must be replaced each year even if you didn’t use them. So that’s $2,400 per year, every year for this family—and more, if anyone actually has to use their EpiPen during the year.
But the most obscene thing is that there’s absolutely no reason for them to cost even $110, much less $600. It’s pure, unadulterated greed.
The company CEO made $19 million last year
The drugmaker is blaming the price hike on the “broken [healthcare] system.” How this system forced the company to jack prices up by 400% isn’t quite clear, but that’s their story and they’re sticking to it. They’re also citing “research and development costs” like Big Pharma always does when confronted with questions about price-gouging. But here’s the thing: Mylan’s CEO—who just happens to be the daughter of a Congressman—made a whopping $19 million last year. And in the past three years she’s made $54 million.
R&D my foot. That extra $400 per prescription is just one more way to line her pockets at the expense of other people’s—and their children’s—lives. Literally.
So call your Congresspeople. Write to them. Email them. Tell them that this is not acceptable. Big Pharma has gone too far, and it’s time we did something about it.
Congress would like to pretend its hands are tied, but the fact is that they’re the people who pass the laws and they could fix this if they wanted to. So remind them: Big Pharma might put money in their campaign chests, but WE are the ones who elect them. And we can unelect them too.