Facing high EpiPen costs, Georgia EMS department finds a cheaper solution

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If parents are angry about paying as much as $600 for their children's EpiPen allergy shots, emergency service departments across the country are paying even more.

Some are forking over $900 or more for a two-pack of the emergency epinephrine autoinjectors, which are used to stop a life-threatening allergic reaction. But they are not paying nearly that much in Hart County, on the Georgia- South Carolina Border. In fact, they haven’t paid anywhere close to that for a long time.

"It's been probably well over 10 years,” says Hart County EMS Director Terrell Partain.

He says a decade ago, they were paying about $160 for a two-pack of EpiPens, which had to be replaced every year. Then, the price started rising, quickly. So, Hart County EMS decided to find a cheaper way to save lives: switching from EpiPens to syringes. Instead of using auto-injectors, their paramedics give the epinephrine injections themselves.

"We're taught to give all kind of injections,” says Partain.  “That’s what we do every day."

Now, instead of paying hundreds for two EpiPens, Hart county pays less than $10: $2.50 for a vial of generic epinephrine, 70 cents for a syringe. But, there's a catch.  Remember, these injections are given by trained paramedics. Partain says the do-it-yourself approach may not work for lay people, like moms and dads who don't have medical training. So, is it worth it to switch from an auto-injector to a syringe?

“That's a conversation people need to have with their physician,” he says.  “You have diabetics who give themselves shots every day.”

But, those shots are giving in low-stress situations.  Reacting in a high-stress life-and-death situation would be much more stressful.

"If you take an emergency situation, where you can't breathe, or you're getting locked down, are you going to have the dexterity to draw that up out of a syringe and give that to yourself?” Partain asks.  “That's probably not going to be the case."