Because They Can

Updated: Apr 2, 2018

by Alexis Young

Twelve-year-old Rick retrieves a coconut bar. At least he thought that’s what he has. But as soon as he bites into, chews, and swallows a hunk of the bar, his body reacts violently with hives, chest pains, and swelling that threatens to close his windpipe. Of the two similar boxes standing side by side in that pantry, he had mistakenly picked the wrong one and grabbed a peanut bar. Rick has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts.

Fortunately, Rick also has an EpiPen, and the swift injection saves his life.

Sue, a middle-aged woman also has an extreme allergy to peanuts but can no longer afford the EpiPen that escalated in price from $100 to $600. She has to be extremely cautious, scrutinizing ingredients, always alert for contamination of products or equipment. She cannot afford to make Rick’s mistake.

The story of the mammoth jump in price of EpiPen and the rationalizations of Mylan, the company that alone carries the patent of that injector of the drug, epinephrine, continue to make news. People are outraged at the blatant profit-making move of the company. In a probable effort to appease the seething public and its customers, Mylan recently announced the advent of its own generic version of the EpiPen to arrive on the market soon, only to cost $300.

How can Mylan or any pharmaceutical company unilaterally make such a decision? On what basis? Here we’re not talking about recreational items, nonessential gadgets…we’re talking about prescribed drugs that are necessary to maintain or improve one’s health, or save one’s life.

The simplest answer to the how is — because they can.

But we’ll flesh out that succinct answer and in following columns delve into several major causes that contribute to the high and rising costs of prescription drugs. We’ll look at the lack of price controls, lengthy patent times (and how companies navigate to extend those patents), the takeover of companies that produce generics, extensive and aggressive marketing, the lack of transparency within companies and their middlemen (e.g., pharmacy benefits managers), limited competition, and the situation in other countries. We’ll also suggest what we can do to change what we believe is unjust.

The we behind Health Matters, a new monthly column, are members of the Health Care Access Coalition, a grassroots group with members from the local community as well as students of St. Bonaventure University, many who are pre-med students in the Franciscan Health Care Program.  As a coalition we are committed to promoting affordable, comprehensive and quality health care for all through education and advocacy. We’ve taken the high cost of prescription drugs as our first focus.

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