Rising costs of food allergy drugs a cause for grave concern with families

It was just a normal Friday night in Lakeville as Erica Andert watched her kids jump up and down on the trampoline in their front yard.

Even on a seemingly care free night like this, there is one the family always close by: their Epi Pen.

"It's a matter of life and death in our family," she said. "We don't leave home without them. It's like putting on your shoes. You have to have an Epi Pen. You don't leave your house without your shoes, you don't leave home without an Epi Pen."

The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than 3 million kids have some sort of food allergy, a dramatic increase from as recently as the late 1990s. Research by the CDC reports that the food allergy rate for kids jumped by 18 percent between 1997 and 2007.

The most severe result of those food allergies is something called anaphylatic shock, which can be fatal.

"What happens is there is a lot of swelling,and if that swelling is the tube that makes up your airway, then that is a life-threatening situation," said John McClure, the Health Care Coordinator for Elkhart Schools.

Fortunately, there is a cure.

Epinephrine auto-injectors, more commonly known by the brand-name Epi Pens are becoming more common in schools and other public places. But in homes, the families that need them are facing a big problem: their price.

"It's scary, it's overwhelming," Andert said. "It's just unreal how much it's skyrocketed since we began our journey 11 years ago."

The price has spiked by 450 percent since 2004. It can now cost more than $600 for just one box with two Epi Pens. The company that makes them, Mylan, attributes that to changes to health insurance industry.

"An increasing number of people and families are enrolled in high deductible health plans, and deductible amounts continue to rise," a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to WSBT. "This shift, along with our insurance landscape changes, has presented new challenges for consumers, and they are bearing more of the cost. This change to the industry is not any easy challenge to address, but we recognize the need and are committed to working with customers and payors to find solutions to the meet the needs of the patients and families we serve."

The company pointed out they do provide a savings card they offer patients and say that ensuring access to epinephrine is a core part of their mission.

Since Epi Pens expire every year, families who need them are starting to try and find other ways to cut costs.

"We have to do it," Andert said. "But I don't think it's fair that people have to choose between making a house payment or for life saving medication, because it's something that these children or adults need to have. If they go into anaphylaxis, that's their only means of surviving."

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