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Opinion >  Editorial

Outside View: Another black eye for Big Pharma

The following editorial from the Sacramento Bee does not necessarily reflect the view of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board.

It’s bad enough that the price of life-saving EpiPens has exploded from $94 in 2007 to more than $600 now.

Even worse, so has executive pay at Mylan Inc., which bought the EpiPen rights in 2007. CEO Heather Bresch’s compensation has skyrocketed from $2.5 million to nearly $19 million in 2015.

Now, Mylan is pushing legislation – including a bill before California Gov. Jerry Brown – that could mean greater use of EpiPens and, of course, bigger profits.

And Big Pharma wonders why so many have such a dim view of the industry.

This isn’t some specialty drug for a relatively low number of patients. EpiPens are widely used to inject epinephrine, which reverses swelling and other symptoms of potentially deadly allergic reactions to foods or insect bites. More than 3.6 million prescriptions for the two-dose packs were filled last year.

Members of Congress are rightly demanding hearings and investigations on the price spike. Yet, lobbied by Mylan, Congress itself boosted the company’s bottom line with a 2013 law that gave money to states that required EpiPens or similar devices be stocked in schools.

The company is lobbying states to expand stockpiles beyond schools. In California, a bill – sponsored by Mylan and authored by Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat – would also allow EpiPens to be stocked and used in emergencies at day care centers, colleges, summer camps, recreational centers, sports arenas, restaurants and other places where people might have allergic reactions. Already, 17 states have passed similar laws, and there are bills pending in others.

The fate of the bill is in Brown’s hands. The governor should be very skeptical of this measure and make sure it would do much more to save lives rather than padding Mylan’s profits.

EpiPens dominate the market and are under U.S. patent protection until 2025. Mylan has been raising the price every year and recently every quarter, according to drug price databases.

Mylan plays up its discount program and stresses that it has given more than 700,000 free EpiPens to schools since 2012. And what patients actually pay out of pocket depends on their insurance plan, though we all eventually pay for health care costs.

Still, EpiPens produced 40 percent of Mylan’s operating profits in 2014, and its stock price has tripled.

Mylan executives have some explaining to do. Under oath before a congressional committee would be a good place to start.

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