NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

EpiPen: A Case Study in What's the Matter with Health Care

September 7, 2016

Senior Fellow Devon Herrick writes at NCPA's Health Blog:

Americans throw away unused epinephrine auto-injectors worth more than $1 billion annually. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that Americans waste more than $1 billion annually on $50 million worth of epinephrine auto-injectors that are discarded unused. The devices should only cost $20 a pair. So, why do they cost $608 instead? More on that below.

Severe allergic reactions can result in anaphylaxis, including skin irritation, hives and a person\'s windpipe can even begin to swell closed. Children allergic to peanuts or tree nuts are especially a concern since their parents are not always there to supervise them. By some estimates, perhaps 4 percent to 6 percent children have some type a food allergy. Yet, the likelihood of children suffering anaphylaxis is low. Estimates vary, but a study from Washington State back in the 1990s found only 1 kid in 9,524 had an episode in any given year. A similar study from Minnesota found the rate was one in 1,400.  The difference in the prevalence had to do with how strict a definition was used.

Although uncommon, on rare occasions anaphylaxis can turn fatal. Researchers in the U.K. claim that in any given year, the chance of a child with a food allergy dying of anaphylaxis is just under 1 in 300,000Another study put the number in Britain at 1 in 800,000. That is not to suggest the risk in nontrivial; about 200 unlucky people in the United States die annually from Anaphylaxis. Most of them are adults -- about two-thirds. The most common causes are reactions to medications.

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