We live in medically advanced times. Today we can save a child from anaphylactic shock – and even death – with the closest thing to a magic wand that humanity has ever seen. Forty years ago, that would have been unthinkable. The first epinephrine autoinjectors, now sold as EpiPens, were introduced in the 1980s, and they have done wonders to make the world a safer place for millions of people whose allergies make them more vulnerable in a dangerous world.
However, starting this year, the CEO of Mylan, the company that produces EpiPens, has brought a new economic element to this danger by raising prices for some to over $600, and it is time for her to hand off the reigns. After returning the price of EpiPens to manageable levels, Heather Bresch should resign and put the company in more compassionate hands.
A single EpiPen contains about one dollar’s worth of epinephrine, and in 2007, Mylan sold it for around $57 per pen, which was expensive but doable for many families. Those with insurance frequently found the one pen that was recommended was covered, but those without were forced under the burden of paying for an exorbitantly priced necessity while living uninsured.
That burden has recently gotten even heavier. Since 2010, the general recommendation is for each allergic person to keep two EpiPens on their person or accessible at all times because the recommended dose has doubled. This means that people who struggled to afford a single EpiPen were now struggling twice as much, and people who purposely kept more than one pen on hand now had to stock up.
Of course, it makes sense that using an EpiPen is a last resort reserved for emergencies. An allergic person should do everything possible to eliminate allergens from his or her environment and consider new therapies to reduce reactions to allergens. However, even if an allergic person makes a maximum effort to reduce his or her need for EpiPens, that person would still have to pay a premium just to keep a set on hand because the pen still must be replaced every year when it expires.
To add insult to injury, there is no cheaper option for this kind of protection. Even though it is a necessity for allergic people, Mylan is the only company that currently makes epinephrine autoinjectors. Though French pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi tried to make an alternative called Auvi-Q, they pulled it from the market in October 2015 because it did not always work right. This means Mylan has a monopoly. The company recently introduced a generic version of their product, but because they own the rights to it and manufacture it, the generic EpiPen does not reduce Mylan’s control of the market.
Mylan hasn’t done much good with its increased profit margins, either. Over the period that EpiPen prices have gone up, which began in 2007, their CEO Heather Bresch’s salary has increased 670 percent, from $2.5 million to $18.9 million. It is hardly controversial to say that Bresch’s former salary was nothing to sneeze at, and the subsequent increase is simply greedy.
Bresch has obviously benefited from the misfortunes of many who simply cannot afford it. She has shown that the public cannot trust her leadership to be fair or reasonable; what can we expect from her now besides selfishness? The best decision she can make is to fix the egregious mistake she made when she raised the price of the EpiPen and step down, handing off the CEO position to someone who can manage Mylan with the good judgement such an important company requires.
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