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Senators silent on EpiPen issue

We wonder why neither of New Hampshire’s U.S. senators have uttered a peep about the fact that the company that sells the life-saving EpiPen has raised the price by 550 percent over the past eight years.

The EpiPen, for those who don’t know, is often carried by those with potentially life-threatening allergies to things like food or bee stings. When a person is exposed to an allergen, the EpiPen delivers a dose of epinephrine through an auto-injector. The shot works by quickly reversing the symptoms of anaphylaxis, the immune system’s reaction to the introduction of an allergen.

For children and others, the product can be the difference between life and death.

When Mylan Pharmaceuticals first bought the EpiPen in 2007, it cost consumers about $100 for the typical package of two doses. At the beginning of last week, the list price was about $600, and the spike has produced public outrage.

Consumer advocates accused Mylan of price gouging and held up the company and CEO Heather Bresch as a sign of corporate greed along the likes of Martin Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmeceuticals who last year raised the price of the drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per tablet.

In response to public pressure, Mylan announced last week that it would beef up the financial assistance the company provides to some patients to help defray their out-of-pocket costs and expand the eligibility for uninsured patients to receive free products. Then, on Monday, the company announced that it would begin manufacturing a generic version of the EpiPen to be sold at half the price of the brand-name product.

The company, however, steadfastly refused to reduce the $600 list price of the original.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is running for the U.S. Senate, issued a statement on Monday and a letter to the Food and Drug Administration in which she urged the FDA to expedite approval of a generic epinephrine product.

She has a point, and it gets to a big part of the problem: Mylan controls about 90 percent of the market for a drug that has been on the agency’s drug shortage list since 2012. Bringing more generics to market would increase competition and, presumably, reduce the price for consumers.

Five senators sent a letter to the FDA asking how many generics were in the pipeline and what the process is for getting more approved. (The FDA, it is worth noting, receives about half of its revenues in fees paid by the very businesses it is charged with regulating, mostly pharmaceutical companies.)

Neither of New Hampshire’s senators signed that letter to the FDA. We wonder if Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte would have signed on were the drug in question Narcan – which is used to reverse opioid overdoses – rather than the EpiPen.

We also wonder if their silence on this issue has anything to do with the fact that they have taken money from the pharmaceutical industry. According to the Center for Responsive Politics website OpenSecrets.org, Shaheen, D-N.H., collected $98,910 from the pharmaceutical and health products industry during her 2014 campaign, while Ayotte, who is up for re-election, has taken in $301,261 during this election cycle.

Or could their silence be attributable to the fact that Bresch – the Mylan CEO – is the daughter of one of their colleagues in the U.S. Senate?

Whatever the reason, their silence on an issue like this seems a little out of character.