September 9, 2016 12:01 pm
Updated: September 9, 2016 12:57 pm

EpiPen sold out at your drugstore? ‘Increased demand’ is hurting supply: Pfizer Canada

The price of a life-saving medication for people with severe allergies has soared by 500 per cent in the United States, even as the cost remains unchanged in Canada. As Jackson Proskow reports, that’s prompting outrage and leading to questions about why drug prices are so different between the two countries.

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Parents, are you having trouble finding an EpiPen at your local pharmacy? The Canadian company that supplies the emergency medicine injectors for those with allergies says that “increased demand” is to blame but that stores should be resupplied with inventory by next week.

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It’s been a tumultuous summer for the EpiPen, which made worldwide headlines because of skyrocketing prices in the U.S. Its American distributors, Mylan, have a virtual monopoly on the epinephrine injectors – the list price for a package of two syringes rose to more than $600 US. (That’s a 400 per cent price hike since 2007.)

READ MORE: Here’s how EpiPen makers are explaining their skyrocketing prices

In Canada, a single auto-injector costs $100. Reports poured in of Americans heading north to stock up on the life-saving devices. Meanwhile, Canadian parents may have had the EpiPen on their back-to-school shopping lists.

“The increased demand we typically see during the back-to-school period is significantly higher this year. Pfizer has been working diligently to ensure full supply to all pharmacies through their distribution partners, however, due to transit times, certain pharmacies have had to wait a day or two to receive their EpiPen shipments,” Pfizer spokeswoman, Manon Genin, told Global News in an email.

“Pfizer Canada forecasted for this seasonal spike and had enough to meet this increase, but we have been allocating inventory to ensure that our EpiPen stock is fairly distributed to our wholesale customers. We are pleased to confirm that we will receive several shipments of EpiPen and of EpiPen Jr. early next week, which should help us to meet the increased demand across Canada,” Genin said.

Canadians shouldn’t worry about escalating prices, either, Pfizer says.

While Mylan has a patent on the EpiPen until 2025, Pfizer Canada distributes the medicine under a licensing agreement.

“The price increases apply only to the U.S. market. They do not impact Canada,” Genin said.

“In Canada, medicine prices are regulated. Price increases are strictly controlled by governmental authorities. There has been no significant price increase for EpiPen in Canada for the past several years,” she explained.

Mylan offered its own solutions to U.S. customers, too.

READ MORE: Mylan launching cheaper, generic version of EpiPen in U.S.

For starters, it doled out a “savings card” that would cover up to $300 for the injectors.

“We have been a long-term, committed partner to the allergy community and are taking immediate action to help ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen Auto-Injector gets one,” the company’s CEO, Heather Bresch, said in a statement.

She said Mylan understands the “significant burden” on patients from rising insurance premiums and having to pay full list price for certain medications.

READ MORE: How EpiPen’s maker raised prices in the U.S.

After that move, Mylan announced that it would start selling a generic version of the EpiPen that would cost $300 for a two-pack.

EpiPens are used in emergencies to treat severe allergies to insect bites and foods like nuts and eggs that can lead to anaphylactic shock. People usually keep a number of EpiPens handy at home, school or work. The syringes, prefilled with the hormone epinephrine, expire after a year.

  • With files from the Associated Press

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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