EpiPens vs. Naloxone: Which life is more important?

Photo Credit: Zoe Archambault

Photo Credit: Zoe Archambault

My daughter could die within minutes of eating peanuts. She is one of those kids with an anaphylactic allergy.

She had a terrifying reaction to peanuts when she was three. Her face swelled up, she developed hives, her voice changed and then she developed a laboured cough indicating her airway was constricting. We had to administer two EpiPens before the ambulance arrived.

That same night, after spending hours in the emergency department to monitor for a recurring reaction, we had to go to the pharmacy and purchase two more EpiPens to replace the two we used to save her life.

There are costs to these EpiPens. Through OHIP+, if you don’t have coverage under a private plan, they are free for youths 24 years and under. If you have a drug plan you pay whatever the plan does not cover. In our case we pay $20 for each EpiPen. Prior to OHIP+ if someone did not have coverage they would pay approximately $100 per pen depending on the pharmacy.

Some pharmacies give people a hard time when their child is prescribed an adult EpiPen, which is not covered under OHIP+. A junior EpiPen is for those 33–66 pounds and an adult is for those 66 pounds or more. The problem is that because it goes by body weight and many children are over 66 pounds, you could end up having to pay for the adult one.

What happens when someone does not have private coverage and they are over 24? They are paying for life-saving medication out of pocket.

What’s the solution? Make them free.

If you engage in drug use, your life saving medication is free. Yes, the Naloxone kits for the reversal of opioid overdose are free no matter your age.

Why is Naloxone free and EpiPens are not? It doesn’t make sense.

Are they both going to save a life? Yes. Is the drug users life more important than someone suffering from anaphylaxis? No.

Both medical emergencies are quite similar. An anaphylactic reaction to an allergen can happen at any time unknown to the person through cross contamination of food products just the same as drugs can be contaminated with opioids. Many of the symptoms are similar but anaphylaxis has more symptoms. For both, after an injection 9-1-1 must be called immediately. If signs do not improve during a reaction or recur in 15 minutes then a second EpiPen is required if an ambulance is not there on time. For an opioid overdose, if improvement is not seen in two to three minutes the dose is repeated. However, the main similarity is that both are used in emergencies and both save lives.

With far more similarities than differences between an opioid overdose and an anaphylactic reaction the fact that one is provided for free and the other has a charge is unfair and seems discriminatory.

A direct result of the high cost of EpiPens is that some parents do not want to or can not purchase new pens every year and will gamble with their expiry dates. If the epinephrine is cloudy or discoloured then the pen needs to be replaced immediately but if it is clear then some people figure it is still good so they keep them beyond the expiry date listed on the pen. This can be avoided by offering them for free no matter their age.

This extends to any life-saving medications. Shouldn’t diabetics get their insulin covered? That’s a life saving drug as well. Why is one person’s life more important than another? I say, free life saving drugs for all.

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