FORT LEE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Some lawmakers are calling for federal investigations and hearings into the recent price surge of a potentially life-saving allergy medication.

Pharmacies paid around $100 for an EpiPen two-pack in 2009, but the price has since skyrocketed to more than $600 — a more than 480 percent increase for a medicine that doctors say costs about $2 per dose, CBS News reported.

The rising cost has elected officials, including New Jersey State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), asking why the prices are now so high. He called it “price gouging, plain and simple.”

“Many families can’t afford this,” he told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “I’m not a math major, but that’s a hell of an increase for those families and these youngsters as well.”

Codey fired off a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for pharmaceutical company Mylan, the maker of the EpiPen, to be held accountable and requesting government oversight.

New Jersey State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge) called the price “unconscionable.”

“Look, everybody wants to make money,” Vitale told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “But this is at the expense of children and the price itself is just unaffordable and really outrageous. So the Federal Trade Commission, we’ve asked them, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Justice Department and others to look at this price gauging and this monopoly issue.”

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) said she submitted a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requesting a hearing on the price increase.

“The free market can be a wonderful engine for good in our society, and it has certainly led to the production of countless medical innovations,” Meng said in a statement. “We must be vigilant, however, to not cross the line of price-gouging, especially when a product has been around for a generation and is incredibly cheap to produce.”

The EpiPen is filled with epinephrine, which works to counter the effects of a severe allergic reaction. EpiPens expire and need to be replaced every year. With no generic alternative and the only competitor going out of the business last year, many parents feel helpless.

“Epinephrine is not that expensive of a drug, so to increase this for families, I think is shameful,” said Ann Bouchard, a mother of four children who all have food allergies.

Emily Youree’s 5-year-old daughter, Anna, has severe sesame allergy. She said some families are now taking extreme measures to get the drug that they now can’t afford.

“It’s not cliche to say it’s life or death,” she said. “We’ve heard situations where people are recommending going to Canada or other countries to buy them.”

Mylan began increasing the price in 2007 after it took over the product. The company told CBS News the price increase reflects “a significant investment to support the device over the years” adding that they are  committed “to find solutions to meet the needs of the patients and families we serve.”

The company also said it does offer an assistance program and gives free EpiPens to schools.

Experts say another factor is higher deductibles for insurance plans, meaning some families have to pay more out of pocket.

Comments (13)
  1. There already is competition, Adrenaclick.

    Can buy 2 injectors for $141 at Walmart (with coupon)…

    It is called “free market”. People need to stop relying on the gov’t to save them and instead just go somewhere else.

    1. yallaid says:

      This is ridiculous. So people need to go price match at WalMart (with coupons in hand!) in order to get literally life-saving medicine for their children.

      We as a society have no obligation to make sure that this stuff is affordable and available to people!?

      1. craniumlogos says:

        No, people don’t have to go to Walmart, if they can afford to spend $600. If you want to save money, then go to Walmart.
        As to whether “we” have a responsibility to make this affordable and available, that’s open to debate. But if “we” do, let society (which is “we”) pay for it then, not the company who makes the pens.
        Just because a company has done a better job inventing and manufacturing epi pens that can command a superior price, doesn’t mean they deserve to be punished for it. Let the taxpayers foot the bill, if that’s what they want to do.

  2. Bab Bole says:

    “a significant investment to support the device over the years”

    And what is it about the device that has changed so much? If you pull one of those things apart, they’re not complicated at all.

  3. craniumlogos says:

    The answer is to introduce competition. Not to have politicians expressing outrage and grandstanding, or make vague charges about what is, or is not, “price-gouging.”

    1. yallaid says:

      and since the higher price is a direct result of the failure of the epipen’s most direct competitor (Adamis [$ADMP]) to get FDA approval this is just the correct valuation set by the free market, right? This is what happens when medicine is treated like a commodity, human lives aren’t even considered.

      1. I would argue that Adrenaclick would be more a direct competitor since it is already on the market… and sells for $141 for 2 auto injectors at WalMart currently. But hey, maybe that is just crazy thinking.

      2. There is also Auvi-Q, and epinephrine Injection, USP, auto-injector (generic)

        With Adrenaclick and epinephrine Injection, USP, auto-injector (generic) entering US markets in 2013.

        But hey, continue to lament that the gov’t needs to step in. Maybe people that are that stupid need to be fleeced.

        1. yallaid says:

          I don’t think it’s a very good look when you call those who are trying to get life saving medicine for their children “stupid” people to be “fleeced” by a profit-driven business.

      3. craniumlogos says:

        Yallaid, someone needs to ensure quality control, and under our system the QC check is performed by the FDA approval. If we withdrew that, then there would be cheaper prices (due to more competitors) but suspect effectiveness. I’m not sure that would be a good trade-off in order to achieve lower prices.

        1. yallaid says:

          I’m definitely being hyperbolic so I appreciate the reasonable response from you — but the problem isn’t that we need more or different gov’t regulation of the market, its that we need to remove the market from this equation entirely.

          Many, many countries enshrine access to cheap, affordable healthcare as a mandate to their governments and right for their citizens. In America we’ve enshrined the rights of insurance corporations to profit off of the endless demand for relief from illness.

          1. craniumlogos says:

            Yallaid, I would be interested in knowing why you think that. Is it because meds cost less in foreign countries? If so, then you should know that the prices in the USA are subsidizing those countries. It costs a lot to develop and produce drugs in the USA. These costs are largely paid by people in the USA (because we can, and they can’t) and if the prices that prevail overseas were mandated in the USA, then the investment to discover and produce these drugs would never be made. The free market and the profit motive is the system that has allowed these discoveries – do you really want to get rid of that incentive for discovery and development? I don’t.

  4. john ziemer says:

    the fix is in

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