In Defense of the EpiPen: Human Factors and Social Progress

We've all heard about the outrage surrounding this innovation (the epinephrine autoinjector) by now. It's currently a monopolistic situation, where the free market and the decisions of the FDA regarding competing products have driven the price of this product up to a level far beyond the cost of manufacturing it and even designing it. It is a simple gadget with a price tag that seems more appropriate to a complicated chemical produced by years of R&D. The unfairness of this situation is obvious.

On the other hand, it's a wonderful invention that easily became a successful innovation which improves the quality of life for certain allergy sufferers; a dramatic scene at the emergency room involving skilled personnel and difficult-to-use first-generation medical equipment can apparently be avoided by the availability of this safe, easy-to-administer product. It's actually relatively low-tech, in fact. The question that comes to my mind first is: why wasn't the spring-loaded syringe, invented years, even decades, ago? Why aren't there a bunch of these devices out there, administering all kinds of shots? Suppose you want to get a tetanus booster: wouldn't it be nice to get one of them in the mail every ten years, automatically scheduled by an information system?

Ridiculously high prices abound in the pharmaceutical industry, some of them for drugs that are not especially effective and have terrible side effects. So why is the EpiPen and the company that produces it, Mylan N.V., being singled out for media attack and government action? Maybe it is because the simplicity, indeed the elegance, of this invention makes the situation much easier to understand. The general public is much more reluctant to criticize other products the value of which is so much less obvious. The debate swirling around the efficacy of statins, for instance, is murky because the information measuring that efficacy is difficult for John Doe to obtain and interpret; the statistics alone seem to be generating monumental confusion.

Or maybe the problem is that the EpiPen is a disruptive technology. Because it puts more power in the hands of the consumer, it's a threat to the "priesthood" that the medical care industry has become. If this company and/or CEO is brought down by the production of scandal via intense scrutiny, medical devices in general are more likely to remain mired in the first generation. After all, what other company is going to take this risk in the future if this attack succeeds?


DISCLAIMER: This essay is not a guarantee of this product's safety or a recommendation to buy this company's stock. The information I am basing it on is available to the general public.