Photo by ANDA CHU
BY LARRY SIMPSON
Is there ever a legitimate reason to raise the price of a life-saving drug 5,556 percent? Probably not. It’s not unheard of though, and some high profile cases, such as pharmaceutical company Mylan and the EpiPen, or Martin Shkreli and Daraprin, have many people asking how it can be possible?
But are we asking the right questions? In demonizing companies that price-gouge, are we treating symptoms without even giving the condition a proper name?
When drug company Mylan acquired the patent for the EpiPen in 2007 the price was around $100. Nine years later the price has risen to about $700 for a set of two life-saving syringes. A class action lawsuit has been brought against the company with so many people joining that the law firm that represents the claim has had to create a website just for its action against the pharmaceutical company. Petitions are circulating with hopes of forcing the company to lower the price, gaining hundreds of thousands of signatures in a matter of days.
Anaphylactic shock is one of those phrases too clinical to describe what it is actually like. Perhaps “mother nature’s rear naked chokehold” is too wordy, but it has a certain ring for the MMA fan. “Epic Immune System Fail” perhaps?
In any case, the Mayo Clinic’s website describes anaphylactic shock as “a severe and often life threatening allergic reaction.” These episodes cause a drastic drop in blood pressure and windpipe constriction, sometimes in seconds. They can be caused by venomous stings, food allergies (including the increasingly common tree nut allergy), and even latex, just to name a few.
Dawn Omorodion, a NCC general studies major and mother of four, recalls the first time she went into anaphylaxis caused by a shellfish allergy. She was out at dinner “When I felt my throat swelling I went into denial. Once I was sure that I could not breath my boyfriend rushed me to the E.R. I reached the hospital door barely able to catch my breath. By the time he parked the car I had received those lifesaving shots.”
Since the incident, Omorodion keeps a stash of epi-pens, not only for herself, but for her teenaged son who is deathly allergic to peanuts. It’s a life and death necessity for both, and she just hopes that consumer pressure, new legislation or perhaps a change of heart from drug manufacturers will bring the price down to a manageable level for the consumers who need it.
Call it what you will, but if the appropriate medication is out of reach, most likely the job of summing up the experience will be left to witnesses and or next of kin. That medication would be an injection of a drug known as epinephrine, and the EpiPen brand is as synonymous with the drug as Band Aid is the adhesive strip. And if your EpiPen is out of reach, drastic price hikes might be to blame.
But whose fault is it when drug prices increase drastically, seemingly exponentially? The consumers blame the drug companies, but the drug companies often point the finger at the insurance companies and the government. The government has on occasion blamed the drug companies. The insurance companies, as far as I can tell, remain conspicuously silent. All parties involve say it would be against their best interest to budge even an inch, while the consumer prays for good health or a winning Powerball ticket.
Recently Joseph Khan, founder of the innovated internet education program Khan Academy, interviewed Dr. Laurence Baker from Stanford Medical School to discuss and diagram the process pharmaceutical companies use to price medication. A company spends hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a single drug, and then hundreds of millions to get the drug approved by the FDA, and many of these drugs never make it to market. A company will spend billions producing multiple drugs just to get one on the market.
That one drug has to cover the cost of numerous others and pay healthy dividends to investors or else no life-saving drugs get produced in the first place. However, when a drug makes it to market, particularly if that drug is unique and in high demand, insurance companies have little choice but to pay whatever pharmaceutical companies insist on being paid.
The other side of this outrage is a nation that is uncomfortably, and perhaps irreconcilably, divided on state-funded healthcare. Doctors, hospitals and medicine must be in the domain of free market capitalism if it is to be effective and trustworthy, is the opinion of enough Americans for our federal legislature to be at a near total standstill over the somewhat less than radical, albeit progressive, reforms known as Obamacare. We almost lost Texas over affordable healthcare, no exaggeration.
John Sands, EMT and Computer Science student, has seen the direct impact of the EpiPen price hike. The cost of an ambulance ride in Fairfield County would already run you thousands of dollars, but if the epinephrine costs not $100, but $700, it can make debt add up in ways that most of us cringe to even think about. Still Sands feels that countries with socialized medicine cannot compete with the quality provided by our corporatized system. He suggested that there should ideally be some way to find a balance, but then he, like many of us, just trails off.