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 In the US alone, about 15 million people suffer from food allergies, and allergic reactions result in about 200,000 emergency visits each year. When an allergic reaction occurs, people can inject themselves with the EpiPen—a life-saving device for people with severe allergies or asthma. But unfortunately, it comes at a hefty price in the US: $600. This wasn’t always the case, however.

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Mylan, the company who makes the EpiPen, has raised the device’s price 300 percent in seven years from 2009 to 2016. But why? Because they can.

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch has repeatedly struggled to back up the company’s increase cost for the EpiPen. She believes the problem has nothing to do with Mylan or the pharmaceutical industry, and everything to do with the US health-care system that requires consumers to pay more insurance premiers as well as out-of-pocket expenses for prescription medications.

People remain furious, nonetheless. “This is greed on steroids,” Ralph Nader, a well-known consumer advocate said.

The EpiPen issue is yet another representation of what’s wrong with drug manufacturing, and our health care system altogether.

“Our health care system is based on the premise that health care is a commodity like VCRs or computers and that it should be distributed according to the ability to pay in the same way that consumer goods are. That’s not what health care should be. Health care is a need; it’s not a commodity, and it should be distributed according to need. If you’re very sick, you should have a lot of it. If you’re not sick, you shouldn’t have a lot of it. But this should be seen as a personal, individual need, not as a commodity to be distributed like other marketplace commodities. That is a fundamental mistake in the way this country, and only this country, looks at health care. And that market ideology is what has made the health care system so dreadful, so bad at what it does.” – Marcia Angell, MD

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And while the debate ensues, a collective of doctors is giving people a more affordable alternative.

Called Four Thieves Vinegar, the doctors are offering a free online guide to show people how to make their own “EpiPencil,” for the low price of $30, which is 5 percent of the price Myland charges.

Like the EpiPen, the DIY EpiPencil uses a spring-loaded needle to inject the drug epinephrine — a synthetic form of adrenaline — in patients suffering from respiratory emergencies to open the airways and restore breath.

In 2007, an EpiPen could be purchased for $100. The ongoing spike, currently at $600,  has caused public outrage. Mylan responded by offering people a generic version of the medical device for $300 in August. This only further proved people’s skepticism over the manufacturer’s greed.

Four Thieves Vinegar released their hack on the EpiPen on Sept. 19, with Michael Laufer showing how to use the pen in a five-minute YouTube video complete with links for additional instructions. Laufer and the collective continuously work to provide open-source approaches to drug manufacture and synthesis. Among their biggest projects has been the automated lab reactor, which is capable of synthesizing different medications, and what they say can be built with off-the-shelf parts. The creation will be beta-tested soon, but until then, the collective has provided the EpiPencil as a means for fulfilling the constant requests for an alternative to the expensive EpiPen.
Laufer says building an EpiPencil is simple and “with no special training, anybody can use it.” However, the drug, epinephrine, still requires a prescription, which the collective does not give advice on getting.
Concerns have been raised on the collective’s approach. Drugs are regulated closely to avoid dangers of incorrect administration, using the wrong amounts, or being used by someone who doesn’t actually need the treatment.  “If your child is having a life-threatening allergic reaction, you want to make sure they get the right medicine, at the right time, at the right dose,” noted New York University professor of medical ethics Jennifer Miller. “An EpiPen will give you what you need but you can’t guarantee that with this other device.”
She thinks the Four Thieves Vinegar collective is being irresponsible by showing people how to make the homemade device. “[Laufer’s] basically saying we should deregulate drugs, and allow anyone to make anything. That is not safe. We once had that system, and people died from it.”
Still, there is something to be said for people taking a stand against the pocket-gouging ways of medical companies.


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