Health officials respond to EpiPen shortage: How to stay prepared

EpiPen Shortage

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Pharmacists are seeing a shortage of a device used to treat life-threatening food allergies or insect bites. The EpiPen is known as a lifesaver for people suffering from severe allergies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says EpiPens are in short supply in some areas of the country.

Although EpiPens are in short supply in parts of the U.S., health officials say you should still be able to find emergency treatments for allergic reactions.

The FDA says manufacturing delays are the reason for what it expects to be a short-term shortage.

The drug manufacturer Mylan is made by a division of Pfizer. Pfizer said in a statement the constrained supply of EpiPen is due to certain third-party components. The company said production of EpiPens by its Meridian unit has increased over the last few months and is "anticipated to continue to increase and stabilize over the coming months."

The EpiPen is an auto-injector that contains the drug epinephrine. It's primarily kept on hand, on-the-go or at home.  The device is used as an emergency treatment for those who suffer severe allergic reactions to things like bee stings, nuts, and shellfish.

The pharmaceutical world is not new to recent drug shortages. Pharmacy director at Conway Medical Center, Robert Gajewski, said this shortage is not as bad as it's been with some of the other more severe drug shortages we've experienced.

"Well, I think it's because the way the product is used. It's often carried by small children in school if they have an allergic reaction. So, this is a product that you really don't want to be without. So, the manufacturer alerted the FDA, and the FDA is in turn alerting consumers that this shortage is out there and there are means to get the drug. Just don't panic-- you can call the 800 number, contact the FDA, and contact your local pharmacies and hopefully you should be able to find some within your local area," said Gajewski.

The FDA noted the injectors remain available in many areas, including right here in the Grand Strand.

Surfside Beach Pharmacy, Tidelands Health, and Conway Medical Center all said so far, they haven't had an impact. Although there are restrictions on the drug right now, meaning pharmacies and hospitals are only allowed to buy a certain amount to keep in stock.

Gajewski also said EpiPens are not something that's really needed in the hospital because they use other forms of injecting epinephrine, which are just as effective and gives more flexibility in case a higher dose of the drug is needed.

There are alternative products available, but health officials say it's important to know that each brand functions a little differently. Gajewski said there are other ways to go around this shortage.

"We can always teach them and we can always get the other product… and we can always educate parents and children how to give themselves an injection. We do that with diabetes all the time, so it's not something that's out of reach… so it would be an extreme condition that if we were to run out of the EpiPen. It's just that the EpiPen is just so much easier to use and so convenient, it's just something we really would like to keep in stock," said Gajewski.

With the weather warming up, we're all spending more time outdoors. That means more exposure to life threatening allergies, for some.

Health officials also recommend checking the expiration dates on the injectors you have right now to make sure you have enough time and not have to go without one.

Mylan encouraged patients who have difficulty getting EpiPens to contact the company's customer relations department at 800-796-9526 for assistance.

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