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FDA Allows Copy of Life-Saving EpiPen

Washington, D.C. —(Map)

Expensive allergy shots could get cheaper soon. That’s because the government has said they will allow a company called Teva to make a copy of the life-saving EpiPen.

When someone has an allergy, their body has a strong reaction to something. If you are allergic to cats, your eyes might get itchy or you might sneeze when you’re around cats.

Bee on fingers.
Some allergies just cause sneezing or itchy eyes.
But for some people, an allergy, such as a bee sting, could kill them.
(Source: Nikk, via Flickr.com.)

Some allergies can be much stronger. For some people, eating peanuts or getting stung by a bee can make their throat swell so much that they can’t breathe. They can even die if they don’t get help quickly.

EpiPens were made for that kind of problem. An EpiPen is a shot that puts a medicine called “epinephrine” straight into a person’s body with a needle. The epinephrine calms the allergic reaction and helps the swelling go down so the person can breathe.

An EpiPen
An EpiPen puts medicine straight into a person’s body with a needle.
This calms the reaction and helps the swelling go down.
This has saved many lives.
(Source: Tokyogirl79, from Wikimedia Commons.)

This has saved many lives. And that’s why many children with allergies have EpiPens at home and at school – just in case they need them.

What makes EpiPens special is the pen and the way it puts the medicine in the body. EpiPens can be handled safely. But when they are ready, they can give a shot very quickly, even through clothes.

Person using an EpiPen on another person's leg in a training session.
These people are learning to use EpiPens.
EpiPens are made so that you can use them through clothes.
(Source: New Jersey National Guard, via Flickr.com.)

An EpiPen is an “auto-injector” shot. To use it, someone just needs to hit the pen against a person’s leg. People can even give themselves a shot.

The company that makes EpiPens is called Mylan. In 2016, Mylan made about $1 billion from selling EpiPens. When Mylan bought the EpiPen idea in 2007, EpiPens cost about $100 for two. Now two EpiPens cost around $600. Many people say Mylan is charging too much. The price makes it hard for people who must buy several pens because of their serious allergies.

Heather Bresch, CEOof Mylan
Mylan earned about $1 billion in 2016 from selling EpiPens.
Many people say Mylan is charging too much for its EpiPens.
Heather Bresch, the leader of Mylan, earned about $19 million in 2015.
(Source: Mylan N.V., via Wikimedia Commons.)

Recently people have had another problem with EpiPens. There weren’t enough of them. People in 46 states have complained that they can’t find any EpiPens for sale.

There are other auto-injector allergy shots, such as Auvi-Q or AdrenaClick. But most people have never heard of them. Most doctors know the name “EpiPen” and that’s what they tell their patients to get.

Auvi-Q injection device
Auvi-Q is another auto-injector shot like the EpiPen.
Many people have never heard of an Auvi-Q.
(Source: Richard May, via Flickr.com.)

If your doctor writes that you should get an EpiPen, the person at the drugstore can’t give you one of the other kinds of shots. Until now, there was no way to replace an EpiPen.

But now the FDA  – the US government group that controls medicines – has changed that. The FDA has agreed to let a company called Teva sell a “generic” EpiPen. Generic means that something is the same, it just doesn’t have a famous name. In this case, even though Teva’s shot will not be called an EpiPen, it will work like an EpiPen.

EpiPen Box
The FDA has agreed to a “generic” EpiPen.
The generic pen will work the same way, it just won’t have the famous name.
(Source: Intropin, from Wikimedia Commons.)

And if your doctor says you need an EpiPen, the person at the drugstore will be allowed to sell you Teva’s generic one. That’s good news because generic medicines can be as much as 80% cheaper.

Teva has not said yet how much its pen will cost, but many people are hoping that the FDA’s decision will make it cheaper and easier to buy this life-saving medicine.

Washington, D.C.


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