The skyrocketing price of EpiPens in recent years is putting added pressure on parents as they get ready to send kids back to school prepped for allergic reactions, according to experts.
The EpiPen, which is the last remaining epinephrine injector on the market, has seen a dramatic cash price increase over the past decade, according to Consumer Reports.
The website Good Rx, which Consumer Reports cites and which finds drug prices, currently lists EpiPens as costing around $600 at multiple drug stores.
In 2007, when Mylan Pharmaceuticals took over producing the drug from Merck, the cash price of the pens was about $50, according to a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The device holds $1 of epinephrine, according to Bloomberg.
EpiPens are covered by Medicaid, but private insurance requires patients to hit a deductible before insurance kicks in.
Allergy experts and organizations are concerned that the price spike could have serious health consequences as some parents struggle to pay for the medication before sending children back to school.
Dr. James R. Baker, CEO and chief medical officer of the patient advocacy group Food Allergy Research & Education, said it's not low-income families that are the are likely to suffer but families with high-deductible health plans that may require them to pay thousands out of pocket.
"These patients are faced with a bill for several thousand dollars for several epinephrine auto-injectors if they have not already fulfilled their out-of-pocket requirement under their health plan," Baker told ABC News. "This can be devastating for many families who do not have financial reserves."
Baker said his group has started to hear reports of families taking extreme steps of "stretching" EpiPens to save money.
"Anecdotal reports to us suggest that for some families it’s not unusual to split two-packs of auto-injectors, keep epinephrine auto-injectors past their expiration dates, or delay or ultimately not refill their prescriptions," said Baker. "This is an enormous patient safety issue."
Mylan Pharmaceuticals said in a statement to ABC News that it has provided 700,000 free EpiPens to schools and has given coupons to families who have trouble paying for the medication.
Officials from the company said they realize more needs to be done to help patients with high-deductible plans.
"With changes in the healthcare insurance landscape, an increasing number of people and families are enrolled in high deductible health plans, and deductible amounts continue to rise," company officials said in a statement. "This shift has presented new challenges for consumers, and they are bearing more of the cost. This change to the industry is not an easy challenge to address, but we recognize the need and are committed to working with customers and payors to find solutions to meet the needs of the patients and families we serve."
The company has declined to comment on the price increase, according to the New York Times.
For allergists prepping families for back to school season, the price increase has resulted in a flurry of calls from concerned parents. Dr. Scott Sicherer, Professor of Pediatrics and a researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai in New York, said he recommends parents have at least two EpiPens on hand for children with severe allergies at all times.
It can be especially burdensome for the families with younger children since doctors recommend making sure extra EpiPens are available at places where the child spends much of their time such as school, camp or a relatives home.
"Patients depend on it and we want our patients to carry two units with them at all times," said Sicherer. "For children, they will need more than two units since they will be in different places so they need to keep it in camp or school. We also recommend watching for the expiration date and to renew it when it comes time to.
"It does become a financial burden when they are so expensive."
Sicherer said that there are not many good options for families to save money. While he offers coupons to patients to help out with cost, he said another option is getting a syringe and vial of epinephrine to use in an emergency. But he said that is likely not a good option for many patients, especially for young children.
"We know in emergency situation it can be hard to draw up, there might be problems with underdosing or overdosing and it’s not practical for most people," he said. "It is hard to do that and expect people to do that in an emergency situation."
Sicherer said he hoped legislative action will be taken to help bring down the cost of the drug for patients and families, as well as, further research to see if EpiPens can be used past their current expiration dates.
Multiple members of congress are now also calling on Mylan Pharmaceuticals to explain their pricing.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Mylan has violated antitrust laws -- noting that her own daughter carries an EpiPen for her nut allergy.
"Many Americans, including my own daughter, rely on this life-saving product," she wrote. “Although the antitrust laws do not prohibit price gouging, regardless of how unseemly it may be, they do prohibit the use of unreasonable restraints of trade to facilitate or protect a price increase."