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Sunday, February 18, 2018

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EpiPen controversy shows saving lives is low priority


There was a time when developing a drug was about preserving life and encouraging health, but pharmaceuticals have become an industry for execs seeking to make money hand over fist.

In late August, Mylan, the pharmaceutical company that produces and manufactures EpiPen, caused a furor after raising the price of their auto-injectors by over 400 percent.

Epi is short for epinephrine. In Hollywood cinema, epinephrine is often shown during a scene where a character is suffering from an allergic reaction or an asthma attack. To tone down the symptoms, said character will jab themselves in the leg with an injector.

Epinephrine provides the adrenaline needed to naturally release under the stress caused by these attacks. If you’ve ever been in a situation where epinephrine is not readily available, it’s not hard to imagine the fear of losing the ability to afford it.

The unfortunate news comes simultaneously with the announcement that Mylan’s CEO received a 600 percent pay raise.

That sentence alone would be enough to express the entire argument of this column. The ridiculous amount of money exchanging hands at the sake of dependent consumers is so obviously fraudulent.

Yet, large pharmacies continue to run their scams unimpeded. Insulin, another life-saving medication, increased by 200 percent since 2002, rising up from $231 to $736 per patient.

The issue has reached the point where people, unable to afford the medications, have simply stopped purchasing them and risk their own lives.

Greed in the pharmaceutical industry isn’t uncommon. The excuse of manufacturing cost is always fobbed off to soothe the public, but the truth lies in the imminent announcement of CEO pay hikes and lack of competition.

In 2015, Rajiv Malik, president of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, saw his base pay increases 11.1 percent to $1 million. Chief commercial officer Anthony Mauro saw a 13.6 percent jump to $625,000.

Of course, there are generic brands for EpiPen users, but Mylan has done their best to make sure they are the only, and best, option for epinephrine.

What this means for users of EpiPen: suck it up. Mylan has made suckering money from their consumers’ pockets into an art form.

EpiPen claims to be a generic brand of medication, but only to the extent that Mylan offers smaller discounts to the state and Medicaid pays an exorbitant amount for the product. Mylan also owns rights to exclusively sell the EpiPen.

In reality, epinephrine is not costly. It starts at less than $1 per milliliter and there’s less in an EpiPen. However, because of the lack of competitors, Mylan has successfully created a monopoly in the epinephrine industry.

They have taken full control over the pockets of their consumers.

The arrest of Martin Shkreli, also known as “Pharma Bro” and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was a perfect example of how easy it is to run a scam in the pharmaceutical industry without competition.

Turing Pharmaceuticals caters to a clientele that live in stark contrast to their CEO. During his interrogation, Shkreli bragged about his lavish lifestyle and his scheme to get more from people who have less.

In 2015, Shkreli raised the price of his anti-parasitic drug, Daraprim — used to treat autoimmune weaknesses like HIV — from $13.50 to $750 immediately after acquiring it. Shkreli claimed that the money went toward research, but boasted about purchasing the only copy of a Wu-Tang Clan album for $2 million.

Although I doubt that Mylan execs are spending their money on hip-hop albums, the facts remain the same. These pharmaceutical companies that provide life-saving drugs are raising the prices because they simply can.

Shkreli is the poster boy for capitalism in the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, he is American pharmaceuticals in a nutshell.

There will always be a demand for medicine. One needs to only buy the exclusive rights for a drug, knock out the competition and the consumers will forever be in their debt. It’s not surprising to see news of a pharmaceutical company raising the price of an in-demand medication.

The fact that people may suffer if they are unable to afford said medications only adds to the appeal of raising costs. It would mean consumers have no option but to dig deep in their pockets — or die.

As long as health remains a staggering problem in the U.S., so will pharmaceutical greed.

Opinion Columnist Caprice Carter is a communication junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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