It's the size of a marker and as common as Band-Aids in a school nurse's office. EpiPen, a device that delivers a dose of epinephrine that can stop an extreme allergic reaction, has been credited with saving the lives of children for whom a peanut or a bee sting could be fatal. But drugmaker Mylan has hiked the price of the device by nearly 500% over the past few years, CBS News reports, and parents and doctors aren't happy. "When epinephrine only costs a few cents, but they're going up to $500, personally I don't think that's ethically responsible," allergy specialist Dr. Douglas McMahon told NBC News. “Patients are calling and saying they can't afford it.” (McMahon is seeking FDA approval for his own device that he says will cost $50.) Twice in her seven years, Ellie Henegar’s life was saved with an EpiPen, but her parents were stunned last year when the bill came to $600, they told CBS.
Compare that to 2009, when the bill was about $100 for the same two-pack of EpiPen. While insurance covers varying degrees of the cost, not everyone is lucky enough to have a plan that does, NBC notes. With a near monopoly, Mylan has little incentive to cut the price, Bloomberg reports. In fact, Mylan execs considered dumping the aging product in 2007. Instead, they launched a marketing campaign that turned the device into an essential, donating EpiPens to schools and dropping $35 million on TV ads. A law passed by Congress in 2013 requiring schools to stock epinephrine devices also boosted sales, which last year totaled $1 billion. Mylan contends it has made a "significant investment" to improve the device and offers coupons. "It's a totally established brand name with little competition," Bloomberg’s Robert Langreth tells CBS. "That gives them freedom to raise the price every year."