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Soaring EpiPen Prices Raise Questions About Pharmaceutical Industry

BOSTON (CBS) - For someone with an allergy, an EpiPen can mean the difference between life and death. The price of this indispensable injectable drug has soared in recent years. Dr. Mark DeMatteo, an emergency room doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess in Plymouth, said the cost was around $60 ten years ago. The price now is about $400.

Every bite Dylan Frazier takes needs to be watched closely because the 9-year-old from Duxbury has severe food allergies.

"If we don't have an EpiPen and he has a reaction, it could be deathly for him," explained his mother Kristen Frazier.

Frazier makes sure there are EpiPens near Dylan at all times. "One in his backpack to and from school in case anything happens on the school bus. In his classroom. In the cafeteria. I carry one at all times. My husband caries one and we have one in the sports bag."

An EpiPen is an injectable form of epinephrine which can quickly reverse an allergic reaction. Frazier has noticed the spike in price.

"It has gone up significantly," she said.

Professor Todd Brown, who teaches at Northeastern University's School of Pharmacy, said the increase in prices is, "a bigger issue across most medications in general now."

Brown added, "Pharmaceutical companies have really changed the way they price medications. It used to be related to the impact of the medication. And now it has really changed essentially to how much they can get for a medication."

This is a real problem in the United States. For example, those same EpiPens which cost about $400 here can be purchased for about $85 in France.

Massachusetts Congressman Michael Capuano believes the system to procure drugs doesn't make any sense here. He said there is no federal regulation on how high drug prices can go. "We have prohibited the government from negotiating prices with drug producers by law, which is crazy thing to have done."

Dr. DeMatteo reiterated how critical this medication is for allergy patients, and is concerned some families might be forced to cut back. "These events can progress at a very rapid pace, sometimes as quickly as 20 minutes. Under those circumstances, having an EpiPen will be absolutely lifesaving."

Frazier knows she's lucky her insurance covers a majority of her costs, but her co-pays still add up. She worries about the future. "I have a friend who recently had to pay a $1,000 for the EpiPens she wanted."

In a statement, the Mylan Corporation, which manufactures EpiPens, said they offer financial help to families who quality. They have also provided free devices to more than 60,000 schools.

For more information on the Mylan assistance program call customer service at (1-800-395-3376), send an e-mail, or visit the website.

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