If you’ve flipped on the news lately, you’ve probably noticed that a very popular drug, the EpiPen, has undergone a 400 percent price increase. This drug, which costs the parent company Mylan only a few dollars to make, is grossly and unnecessarily priced, especially when one looks at how critical it is to so many people.
An EpiPen is used when someone goes into an allergy induced anaphylactic shock. During this episode, an allergy sufferer’s airway would close off until they suffocate to death. The EpiPen releases a dose of epinephrine, a kind of adrenaline that pumps blood faster and opens up airways.
Many people have been decrying this insane price gouge as a failure of the free market. They say that it’s proof of the greed in American capitalism and that if the government had its way, the drug would remain cheap. I’m here to tell you that that is not only false, but it’s the other way around. The free market could solve the government’s mess, if only we would let it.
In 2013, Obama passed a law, known as the EpiPen law, that stressed the need for EpiPens in schools. In so doing, this law artificially increased the demand for the drug, thus raising the price.
I know what you’re thinking. “Taylor, that company raised its own prices. That has nothing to do with the government.” And you’d be correct in saying that, which is where this gets interesting. In a truly free market, another company would just come along and undercut Mylan’s EpiPen price, forcing Mylan to re-price or go out of business. The problem here is that the government won’t let any other companies intercede.
The FDA classifies the EpiPen as not only a drug, but also a medical device. These governmental regulations mean that pharmacies can’t just switch to a generic form of the drug because the drug comes in a special injector. Since Mylan owns the patent to the injector, competitors must find another way to inject. And the FDA is hampering that process.
Teva Pharmaceuticals, another big name corporation, tried to get another version of the Epipen on the market. It was swatted down by the FDA. They have recently come up with another product called Adrenaclick. Want that in your pharmacy? Too bad, the FDA made that illegal to substitute for the EpiPen.
You’re probably thinking “Okay, lets skip the auto-injector. How about a syringe?” Another great idea brought to you by the French Adamis company, who offered a cheaper alternative with pre-filled epinephrine syringes. Another good idea left to rot at the feet of governmental red tape as the FDA shut that down too over generically vague circumstances.
The stranglehold that Mylan has on its competition is fueled only by the FDA. Of course the FDA has its role to play – nobody wants to take a medication only to find out that it doesn’t work and is the wrong medicine altogether. The FDA has its role in keeping us safe and aware. The fact is, however, that the epinephrine market is a multi-billion dollar market. That means competitors will seek to gain entry into this market like sharks circling a slab of meat. The fact that literally zero companies have been able to break in is a testament to the absolute shut down of the free market.
For those that think the government can solve this, I’d say you’re right. If they lose some of their power.