CANONSBURG – Protesters injected more indignation into the Mylan EpiPen saga Tuesday morning. And while there were only about two dozen of them, they were boisterous and had a lot of support on the ground.
“We are here today because of corporate greed. We are here today because this company, Mylan, put the pursuit of profit above all else,” said Rick Claypool of Public Citizen, one of five advocacy groups that organized the demonstration outside Mylan’s administrative headquarters in Southpointe.
For the past week, the generic drugmaker has been roundly criticized for raising the price of EpiPen more than 500 percent over nine years. Mylan N.V. has a virtual monopoly on the manufacture of EpiPen, an emergency medicine that is injected to halt severe allergic reactions to food and insect bites.
It is used to counteract anaphylactic shock, and can be a lifesaver. An estimated 40 million Americans are susceptible to these reactions.
The cost of a package of two syringes is about $600, although Mylan announced last week it will soon introduce a generic version of EpiPen for $300 a two-pack. It was about $94 in 2007.
Opposition to these increases was expressed in verbal and written terms Tuesday. Barred by security from advancing farther than the entrance to Mylan’s driveway, speakers took turns castigating the company for EpiPen prices, for incorporating in the Netherlands 18 months ago for tax purposes, and for CEO Heather Bresch’s $18 million salary.
Some held signs blasting the company; some carried messages backing House Resolution 676, the single-payer bill before Congress.
Along the curb, sitting in sturdy boxes, were petitions bearing the signatures of 700,000 people across the United States who are opposed to the cost of EpiPen. The boxes were placed on a dolly at the end of the program and presented to the company.
“People are absolutely outraged,” said Claypool, who works in the Pittsburgh office of Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen. “We collected these in a week and a half. This has really moved fast.”
Rachael Viehman, 34, of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, carrying her 10-month-old son in a baby sling wrap, spoke about how both of her children have severe allergies and need EpiPen. She said that drug saved her 5-year-old daughter’s life “and keeps her going on a daily basis.”
Though her husband is a physician and her family has a “good” health insurance plan, she said EpiPen is costly and empathizes with other consumers, some of whom are in a financial position where they pay for the medication while forgoing other needs.
“There’s no economic or moral justification for the prices,” Viehman said.
Manufacturers determine the prices of drugs in the United States. The federal government, unlike those in some other countries, does not regulate them – with the exception of Medicaid and Veterans Affairs, which negotiate large discounts.
Scott Tyson, a South Hills pediatrician, compared some U.S. drug prices with those in nations that regulate them. He said the EpiPen two-pack is $85 in France, and that a medicine for hepatitis C that costs $94,500 in the United States is $900 in India and $1,200 in Egypt.
“I take care of hundreds of children who need EpiPen but can’t get it because of this company’s greed,” Tyson said.
The Rev. Sally Jo Snyder of Pittsburgh’s North Side, representing Consumer Health Coalition, lamented “persons living in poverty are hurt the most” by higher drug prices.
“We cry out to Mylan and other big pharmas to stop. Enough Mylan,” she shouted, her sentiment repeated by others.
Mike Laffin of Mylan’s communications department was on site and responded briefly to reporters.
“We appreciate and respect everyone’s opinions expressed today and plan to review them,” he said, politely declining to respond further. He said other questions and comments could be addressed to his department.