Three years ago, Mylan (NSDQ:MYL) began holding summits for food allergy bloggers to learn about its campaign to get its EpiPen epinephrine injector into schools. Many of the bloggers, mothers of children with serious allergies, were eager to help.
Some, including Ruth LovettSmith, wrote thousands of posts, providing testimony that some legislators say convinced them to pass bills requiring schools to stock EpiPens, according to Reuters – even as the company jacked the price by more than 500%, from $100 in 2008 to nearly $600 this year.
The company has come under fire in recent months for the price hike, prompting scrutiny from the U.S. Senate.
“I personally believe that Mylan held the summits to gain blogger trust and then used those bloggers to spread word about their initiatives. They raised prices while those initiatives gained traction,” LovettSmith told the news service.
The blogging summits included 3-course dinners and presentations about polishing their blogs and giving effective interviews. Homa Woodrum, a lawyer in Las Vegas whose daughter relies on EpiPens for nut and oat allergies, says that she stopped attending the summits after they invited her to 1 in Disneyland.
“It starts to seem a little like you’re being buttered up,” Woodrum said.
Forty-eight states adopted legislation requiring schools to stock up on epinephrine; Mylan donated EpiPens to schools across the U.S.
Kelly Rudnicki, a blogger-turned-paid-Mylan-spokeswoman, quit last month in response to the price hikes and called on Bresch to resign.
Not every blogger is critical of Mylan. Caroline Moassessi has attended 3 summits and testified in Nevada in favor of legislation requiring schools to carry the auto-injector. In 2015, she paid $3,000 for EpiPens for her children and, although she would rather pay less, she acknowledges that turning a profit is part of being a successful business.
“I know they’re a business trying to make as much as they can, like Ford, Chevy, Macy’s,” Moassessi said. “I’m not naive about that, whatsoever.”
Mylan CEO Heather Bresch (the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)) maintains that the price increases are justified and that the company is doing all that it can to get the life-saving medication to consumers. At a Senate hearing this week, Bresch was pressed by representatives from both sides of the aisle to be more transparent and reveal the company’s pricing strategies.
Meanwhile, the FDA is warning against a $30 alternative developed by a group of DIY pharma hackers called “The 4 Thieves Vinegar Collective.” The group encouraged those who can’t afford the pricey EpiPen to make their own, according to in-Pharmatechnologist.
“EpiPens save lives every day, but only for those can afford them,” Michael Laufer, a spokesman for the group, wrote in a blog post. “We have developed the EpiPencil, an epinephrine auto-injector which can be built entirely using off-the-shelf parts, for just over $30.”
Their proposed alternative is made of a non-fixed needle auto-injector, a sterile syringe and a single-use hypodermic needle. The supplies are all available online.
The FDA warned that unapproved products could pose a serious risk to consumers, especially in the case of a deadly allergy emergency.
“It’s essential to remember that epinephrine auto-injectors are life-saving products, and it is critical that they are made to a high standard of quality so patients can rely on them to work safely and effectively,” FDA spokesman Kristofer Baumgartner told in-Pharmatechnologist. “Using unapproved prescription drugs for personal use is a potentially dangerous practice. Neither FDA nor the American public have any assurance that unapproved products are effective, safe or produced under Current Good Manufacturing Practices. Unapproved drugs may be contaminated, sub-potent, super-potent or counterfeit.”