When Darby Leigh found out she’d need to start carrying an EpiPen this summer due to a medical issue, the Florida resident was stunned by the cost.
“I couldn’t afford it,” said Leigh, 35. “They wanted to charge about $600 for two EpiPens and I couldn’t do that. I started looking elsewhere.”
Her husband, Jonathan, originally from Brampton, suggested looking north of the border for cheaper options. She was able to buy a two-pack for about a third of the cost from CanadaDrugs.com, an online pharmacy based in Winnipeg.
With the price of an EpiPen in the United States reaching unaffordable heights for many families, some Americans, like Leigh, are turning to Canada.
Mylan, the U.S. pharmaceutical company that distributes the EpiPen, announced Thursday it would lower the cost of the severe allergy treatment drug for some patients, following pressure from groups such as the American Medical Association and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
But the actual price of the product, which hit $609 per pair in May — a 400 per cent increase since 2009 — won’t change. Insurers and employers that pay the bulk of the EpiPen cost for many patients will continue to do so, contributing to higher health insurance costs.
Mylan has consistently raised the price of EpiPen injectors since taking over the rights to the product in 2007, when a pair of syringes cost $93.88.
The cost of a single EpiPen in Canada is about $100, according to a spokesperson for Pfizer Canada, which distributes the drug locally.
“Canadians can rest assured that the price will not be increased like it has in the U.S.,” said Manon Genin, manager of corporate affairs for the company. “There are mechanisms in place in Canada to make sure that kind of situation doesn’t happen.”
Genin said the Canadian price has remained constant for more than five years, thanks to regulation by the Patented Medicine Price Review Board, which has strict control over the prices pharmaceutical companies can charge for their products. In Canada, the auto-injectors can be claimed under most provincial drug benefit programs.
Mylan plans to double the number of patients eligible for its assistance program, which allows those who lack adequate incomes and insurance coverage to obtain an EpiPen for free. It will also offer a savings card to cover up to $300 of the cost of a two-pack, a boost from the $100 card it previously offered.
“We recognize the significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter,” Mylan CEO Heather Bresch said in a press release. “Patients deserve increased price transparency and affordable care, particularly as the system shifts significant costs to them.”
Despite Mylan’s announcement, Nicole Smith, a Colorado-based advocate for allergy solutions, says it’s still worth it for families like hers to purchase from Canada.
“I want the price in the United States to be reflective of the true price of manufacturing that medication,” Smith said. “If Canada is selling them for $110 per EpiPen, there is no reason then that the price of a two-pack in the United States should be over $600. I’m assuming that they’re still making money on it in Canada.”
Smith, whose 20-year-old son Morgan has life-threatening allergies to nuts, sesame and fish, said she spent $225 U.S. to buy two EpiPens from Canada Drugs Online, a decision supported by her son’s allergist.
“For families that have a budget that they have to adhere to and are concerned about the pricing in the United States right now … I say, purchase it through Canada,” she said.
Tim Smith, general manager of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, said the more than 60 pharmacies it represents which specialize in mail-order products have seen a boost in EpiPens sold to U.S customers.
He said this trend is a result of “the outrage of people who are getting ready to go back to school and are going to buy supplies for their kids and find out the price has gone up so significantly.
“They’re looking for alternate sources for the medication,” he said.
Leigh is already planning to buy from Canada again when she and her husband visit his family in the Toronto area.
“If the prices don’t get any better, which I don’t foresee,” she said, “then I would definitely go through Canada again.”
In Canada, you don't need a prescription to buy an EpiPen. Hurst says there's no difference between the Canadian and American EpiPen.
Customs and Border Protection says anyone who has purchased a personal quantity of EpiPens outside the U.S. may travel across the border into the U.S. with them.
For those who can't make it across the border, visit this website https://www.canadadrugsonline.com
With files from the Associated Press