13News Now Investigates: The fight for Epipen alternatives

13News Now Laura Geller has the story

If you are severely allergic to something, Epinephrine could be the only thing to save your life. Now there is a cheaper alternative to the skyrocketing price of the EpiPen, but we've learned you might have to be your own advocate in order to get your hands on it.

It might seem like a simple task--just ask for the generic version of the drug at your pharmacy and voila, you'll pay less. One Virginia woman found out when it comes to an alternative to the popular EpiPen, that's not the case. She posted her story on Facebook and it made an impression. The post about her fight to get generic Epinephrine has already been shared almost 160,000 times.

"Victory is mine," Barbara Hollinger wrote of her "quest for an emergency dose of epinephrine to have on hand that does not cost an arm and a leg." She made her Facebook post public so other people wouldn't have to go through the same ordeal. Turns out her mission not only schooled thousands of people on the Internet, but her own pharmacist, as well.

“It really struck a nerve,” she recalled. “It really struck a nerve. I got well over 160 messages from people I didn't even know.”

Barbara's need for the drug, isn't rare. Like millions of others, her allergic reaction is life-threatening. She goes into anaphylactic shock if stung by a yellow jacket. It first happened about twenty years ago.

“Aside from the pain, I started to notice that my hand was swelling up, my whole face was swelling up, it was getting hard to breathe,” she described.

Epinephrine has saved her life two times now. The most recent example came when she had to use the EpiPen on herself.

“It's very scary when you know that every time you're stung your allergic reaction escalates,” she explained.

A few years ago, she could get a set of four or five pens for about $60.

“I could have one at work or I'd leave one in my car, one in the kitchen drawer and one in my bag, so that I knew I had one with me all the time,” she said.

When Barbara went to the pharmacy a couple years later she experienced sticker shock.

“I filled that prescription and it was $250 just for the one pack of two and I was a little taken aback,” she remembered.

RELATED: Mylan CEO defends price boosts for lifesaving EpiPen

When her most recent EpiPens expired, she took a different tactic and asked her doctor to write a prescription specifically for an Epinephrine auto-injector, not an EpiPen.

“They called and said the prescription was ready right away,” she told us. “I was a little surprised when I showed up and they told me it was going to be over $600. When I asked them what was the prescription for, they said 'it's for an EpiPen.' I said 'no it's not.' There was a certain amount of discussion back and forth and they were able to find it in their system that yes there really is a generic equivalent.”

Barbara wrote when she went to pick up her new generic drug: "My new friend behind the counter recognized me and said that they had ordered extras to have on hand for other customers after seeing that there was an option."

While the brand name drug would have cost her upwards of $600, with her insurance the generic alternative was only $5 for a set of two.

RELATED: Key EpiPen competitor due in 2017 at 'very, very low' cost

For most people, this version will be at least half the price of the name brand EpiPen. Just a few weeks ago, CVS announced it will come out with a version that's even less than that.

There's been a lot of press on this issue but Barbara believes her experience shows there are still lessons to be learned.

“The consumer really has to be their own advocate,” she added. “There's nobody that's going to do that for you. You have to question that. Anybody that says 'your medication is going to be this much' you have to stand up and say 'you've got to be kidding me!'”

Of course, every insurance plan has different coverage of generic drugs so the prices could vary. To avoid any confusion, make sure you know what's included in your plan before heading to the pharmacy.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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