EpiPen: A Life Saving Product Whose Poor Design and Staggering Price Could Kill You
August 24, 2016
By Tammy Sachs, CEO
As a researcher, I’m often on the road where I have no clue where the local hospital is. Ironically, my two epic “EpiPen” moments happened in remote places when drinking a smoothie.
The first: a colleague with severe peanut allergies started gasping after her first sip of a fruit smoothie as we were setting up for research. “Get the pen,” she said. “My throat is closing up.” As we got her in the car to the ER, I ruffled through her bag in search of “the pen.” I extracted the device above (which looked the same in 1998 as it does now) and was clueless how to use it. It looked very scientific. She grabbed it, half conscious, opened it and stuck it in her leg.
Fast-forward ten years. While driving home from a day of ethnography, I sipped a tropical smoothie. We got in the car and my colleague saw that my face was swelling beyond recognition. I could feel my blood pressure dropping. 15 minutes later, after my epinephrine drip was inserted, Benadryl and prednisone administered, I felt high as a kite. The ER doctor said, “You nearly died. We’ll observe you for 12 hours and then you go get an EpiPen and carry it wherever you go.” So began my love/hate relationship with the device above which expires every 12 months so you have to get two new sets – one to place in your purse and another in a safe place.
Consider a mom with no insurance and two family members with severe allergies. That’s $1,200 a year or $1,000 with coupons that Mylan (the monopoly that acquired EpiPen) offers to reduce sticker-shock. This for a device that looks tortuous, is very big, covered with complex instructions and requires a “starter pen” to practice using!
Let’s compare it to the injectable form of Imitrex for migraines that many use for fast action. My first one looked like an EpiPen 20 years ago. Since then, GlaxoSmithKline must have spoken with customers as the current model is small, self-explanatory and can be used when you’re basically blind with pain.
By contrast, when I show people my EpiPen, I point out:
- It is huge compared to the part that does the work – a ½ inch needle applying 0.3 mg of fluid
- It is yellow which communicates “warning”
- It is full of complex and tiny type suggesting you need to read all of it when you’re half conscious or you are a caregiver encountering it for the first time
- It doesn’t fit easily in a small space considering you need to have it on you at all times. The result? Many leave it at home.
- It has a window that says, “replace if solution is discolored.” What does that mean? The color is clear. I’ve learned that it means you need to go spend another $600 in CASE you need it.
The New York Times reported this morning that the price hike of EpiPens is causing people great concern. Some may opt out of a life-saving solution. Why on earth has no innovation been pursued by Mylan after 25 years?
An innovative EpiPen alternative that was small, friendly and talked you through usage unfortunately was taken off the market. Innovators please rise to the opportunity. You will save lives and create an amazing customer experience.