If you have a child who battles a peanut allergy or other allergic reactions, you know how scary they can be.
Parents rely on epinephrine injectors, like EpiPens, for life-saving treatment. However, a nationwide shortage of EpiPens is now in its sixth month and Quincy mother Janette Brinkman knows how frustrating it’s been.
Brinkman’s 5-year-old son, Jonathan, has no problem playing with his hypoallergenic dog but playing with cats can lead to frightening consequences, such as what happened at a neighbor’s house back in May.
“He came in and the first thing I saw was his ears were all red, his neck was all red and his cheeks were just as red as apples,” Brinkman said.
Her son was suffering from a severe allergic reaction — an anaphylactic attack. Brinkman called 911.
“I don’t like taking a chance like this,” she told the dispatcher. “He’s never had a reaction like this. I gave him Benadryl right away.”
Benadryl calmed Jonathan’s allergic reaction but paramedics took him to the hospital as a precaution.
“It was the scariest thing I had ever been through because his lips were starting to turn blue,” Brinkman said.
An EpiPen could’ve halted Jonathan’s reaction immediately and bought him more time to get to the hospital. EpiPens are one type of auto injector with epinephrine, or adrenaline, that can stop an anaphylactic attack.
Doctors recommended Brinkman get an EpiPen for her son, but there has been a national shortage since the spring. When she tried to get a generic version, she said her insurance refused to cover it.
“It would have cost us $410 out of pocket ourselves,” she said. “And I fought them and fought them and said that was ridiculous.”
Brinkman said she appealed the insurance company’s decision twice and later managed to get one injector with a $75 co-pay. She relied on that until a refill months later.
Allergist Dr. Jason Knuffman has heard similar frustrations. It’s one reason why he prescribes alternative injectors.
“The alternatives that are available are equally as effective as the EpiPen, they are the same dose,” Dr. Knuffman said.
They are simply different devices, such as Adrenaclick or Auvi-Q. Dr. Knuffman demonstrated how Auvi-Q works and said alternative injectors should be easier to find right now.
Meanwhile, for those with expired EpiPens, in August the FDA extended the expiration date for some pens by four months, but Dr. Knuffman said they may last much longer.
“They’ve studied this question and we’ve found that even up to 5 years out that’s how long they’ve been studied, these EpiPens have 80 to 90 percent of the active adrenaline,” he said.
For parents who are nervous using an expired EpiPen, here’s an added safeguard. Look at the window on the side of the EpiPen. If the fluid in that window is clear, Dr. Knuffman said it’s safe, even if it is recently expired. However, if it’s murky and dark, he advised throwing the EpiPen away.
Meanwhile, Janette Brinkman hopes the shortage will end soon for both her family and others.
“Across the board everywhere there’s a shortage for these EpiPens and it’s something that can be fixed.”
FDA Drug Shortage Database
FDA approves first generic version of EpiPen
FDA takes additional action to mitigate shortages of EpiPen by extending expiration date for specific lots of medication
IDPH: Epinephrine Auto-Injector and Anaphylaxis
EpiPen® Auto-Injector Access Resources