At times, profit should take back seat to health

On Aug. 30, delivered to Mylan pharmaceutical company a petition with more than half a million signatures protesting the price of the EpiPen, which had risen to outrageous, unaffordable levels. I’m not usually a petition signer, but my name was on this one. Proudly.
EpiPen is first-line help for those with life-threatening allergies who unknowingly encounter what can kill them. Peanuts, for one. Shrimp, perhaps. Maybe a bee sting. That kind of problem is called anaphylaxis. I signed this petition because for me, the culprit is quinine.
For me, it was three strikes and I was almost out. I didn’t know I could die from ingesting quinine. The first two times I rolled on the floor for hours, with every nerve in my body on fire. But I recovered — at home, alone. The third time, I was hospitalized with such high blood pressure that the medicos feared I was nearing a fatal stroke. When they were finally able to bring my blood pressure down, they told me I wouldn’t make it to the hospital next time. We sat together and figured out the common thread in my three attacks: It was an over-the-counter medication to ease nighttime leg cramps. Its name began with a Q. Carry an EpiPen, I was advised. It will hold you until you can get to a hospital.
A Dallas Morning News reader recently sounded off about Mylan and the contrast between medicine costs today and what he remembered from his childhood: Jonas Salk’s anti-polio vaccine, distributed to doctors for dispensing at low cost. My father, a physician with an adult practice, received his share, but since no children came to his office, he took the vaccine outside, set up a table and chairs on the nearest corner, and buttonholed every mother with a child who passed by. The AMA first chastised him for giving away freebies, but finally decided this was better than wasting a life-saver with an expiration date.
I don’t carry an EpiPen now. Soon after my near-fatal attack, all Q drugs disappeared from pharmacy shelves; there had to be others just like me. And there’s virtually no quinine in widespread use in our country now except in tonic water, which I know better than to drink. But I think about those parents whose children are allergic to peanuts, or whose own bodies react violently to shrimp or bee stings, and I wonder: How many can really afford to pay $600 for something that’s not a cure, but can only buy enough time to get to a hospital for treatment?
Even without the EpiPen, blood thinner medication and a non-statin cholesterol fighter dropped me last June into the dreaded “doughnut hole” of health plan drug costs for the rest of this calendar year. I am fortunate that I can afford what I need. But add on another $600…?
My father is long gone now, but when I go back to visit my old hometown, I sometimes see “the boy next door.” Of course we’re the same age now — old! We both have children, grandchildren, great-grands. Still, we grew up together, graduated from grade school and high school and college together, and we‘re both very glad to be at least relatively healthy today. However, he walks with that distinctive, unavoidable post-polio limp. He was one of the lucky survivors of the summertime epidemics of our childhood, unlucky only because he was stricken before Salk, before my father was dispensing free vaccine at a corner less than a mile from our homes.
We have all learned much in those many years since. Medicine has learned much, too; it knows how to prevent polio, and how to treat anaphylaxis fast enough to save lives in grave danger. But not all those who make drugs like the EpiPen have learned the humanitarian lessons modeled by Jonas Salk and my own father.
That is why I signed the Mylan petition.

Leave a Reply