EpiPen shortage a back-to-school nightmare for parents

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Backpacks, notebooks and pencils usually come to mind when most people think of back-to-school supplies.

But for thousands of children, that list also includes an EpiPen- a life-saving, on-the-spot injectable treatment that can stop a severe allergic reaction. 

The rush to make sure students have them on hand in classrooms is causing a shortage.

For parents of students with potentially life-threatening allergies, the shortage is a back-to-school nightmare. 

Dr. Sunil Joshi, a Jacksonville allergist, is seeing it firsthand.

"We've had, almost every patient has been calling us, 'I can't get my EpiPen! What do I do?'. So we typically are switching them over to a different brand that is available and does not have a shortage right now. So they do have an injectable epinephrine to take to school,” Dr. Joshi said.

The unbranded version of EpiPen is one option that Dr. Joshi says parents and other patients can get through the pharmacy.

As with any medication, these generic epinephrine options can be expensive.

Dr. Joshi urges parents to be aggressive with insurance companies to make sure they are covered. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor for help.

"We have standard letters in our office that we'll send straight to the insurance company and the pharmacy to let them know this patient really does need to have epinephrine available and this is going to be have to be paid for before they go to school," Dr. Joshi said. He adds that parents must not put off updating their epinephrine.

However, if you find yourself with no choice but to wait while the order is being filled, don't toss out your expired one.

"I'm not saying that you shouldn't have an up to date EpiPen, but if you all you have is an expired EpiPen, and your child or you yourself are reacting, use it," Dr. Joshi explained.

Along with food allergies, EpiPens are used for things like fire ants and bee stings, any of which can happen at school. It’s another reason why parents need to know what to do. 

FDA approves first generic EpiPen

The first generic competitor to EpiPen was just approved last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The approval of the generic drug comes after EpiPens were added to the FDA's drug shortage list in May and two years after the maker of EpiPen, pharmaceutical company Mylan, increased costs of its product by more than 400%.

Based on patterns Dr. Joshi has seen, he believes it could be about a month or possibly longer before the generic alternative is available locally. 

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.