BROWNSVILLE -- The controversial price hike of the life-saving EpiPen has outraged many families who cannot afford to buy it. Now some families are daring to go into dangerous Mexico to find an alternative to the expensive device.
A dose of epinephrine, or adrenaline, can either save a life or cause a death, and its cost can have the same result.
Dr. Noel Rodriguez is an allergist practicing in Mexico, where EpiPens don’t exist. Epinephrine cannot be found in pharmacies there. Rather, they are given by the doctor in vials along with a syringe for patients to take home.
“I don’t understand why it’s so expensive,” he said. “In 15 to 20 minutes, a person dies if he doesn’t get the epinephrine.”
About 4 out of 10 of Dr. Rodriguez’s patients are Americans seeking an alternative to the costly EpiPen, the cost of which has nearly tripled in price over the summer.
He says that he gives vials of epinephrine at no additional cost to the treatment. A visit to Dr. Rodriguez comes out to about $50 USD. Pharmaceuticals sell him vials at $2 USD a piece compared to $600 USD for a pack of two EpiPens.
The American price is not an option for Liliana Quintero, who lives three miles from the clinic on the U.S. side. She’s uninsured and, despite the drug violence in neighboring Matamoros, she began seeing Dr. Rodriguez after she had a severe allergic reaction to an ant bite.
“I have to go to Mexico,” she said. “Even though nothing has ever happened to me, I’m still afraid. But at least it is near the bridge.”
Rita Gonzales lives in Edinburg, west of Brownsville. She recently moved to the border with her family. Her son A.J. suffers from a severe case of nut and shellfish allergies. At age 6, he’s already had two close calls. That is why he has learned from early on how to do everything he can to avoid having to resort to a costly EpiPen.
“Because I’m not from here, I’m not totally comfortable going over the border, just when needed,” she said. “But as an option for the families that really need it, I think it’s a great thing. There needs to be affordable care for everybody and affordable medicines that are life-saving interventions.”
Rita says she was able to purchase four EpiPens a week before the price hike; medication that will expire within a year. She thinks that the vials are not a practical solution and hopes to find a good alternative in time.
“That’s startling that we have to go to that measure, to cross the border just to get a cheap medication,” she said.
Dr. Rodriguez says that a vial can also be obtained with your doctor in the United States. However, the cost depends on insurance coverage, but it is still not quite as expensive as the EpiPen.
As long as the cost of epinephrine continues to be out of reach for many families, Dr. Rodriguez anticipates more and more people like Quintero will feel compelled to cross the international bridge into Mexico to get treatment.