EpiPen made the news earlier this year with the massive price hike of Mylan’s product used to save lives by treating anaphylactic shock. All parents of children with food allergies know how important it is to have multiple EpiPens at home, at school and with parents and kids at all times. The price hike of 400 percent made it difficult or impossible for some people to purchase these life-saving auto-injectors.
Not only have parents had to fork over the money for EpiPens, they have to replace expired devices that were never used, tossing the old ones. Now, a recent study has determined that EpiPens are still potent years after the labeled expiration date.
Epinephrine – The Active Ingredient
EpiPen works by administering a dose of a hormone called epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. It acts quickly to relax muscles and reduce the swelling that is characteristic of anaphylactic shock, the potentially fatal inflammation of airways and facial muscles caused by some allergens. Currently, these devices are labeled as expiring 18 months after their manufacture.
Manufacturers, like Mylan, say that the date on the device is the last point at which it is safe and effective to use, and that the expiration is related to how epinephrine degrades when exposed to heat, light and air. If the liquid solution of epinephrine turns rust colored, it has degraded and is no longer effective.
Extended Expiration Dates for Epinephrine
The question of just how often the devices need to be replaced emerged as an important one as the cost of EpiPen went up 400 percent between 2007 and 2016. Behind the question is evidence from scientific studies that found expired EpiPens are still potent. In the most recent study, researchers analyzed the epinephrine content of 40 expired devices.
They discovered that more than two years after the expiration date the EpiPens still had 90 percent of the original active ingredient. Those that were more than four years expired still had 84 percent of the listed amount of epinephrine. According to the researchers, all of these devices were still usable. These findings are similar to those from earlier studies, that EpiPens had longer shelf lives than was previously thought.
Should You Replace Your EpiPen?
The evidence seems to be that outdated EpiPens will still work, but it’s difficult as a parent to take that risk with your child. Many experts say to replace the devices at their expiration dates, but use expired pens if nothing else is available. Some parents report saving expired devices to use as backups.
Whether or not the current expiration dates are valid, or just another way for companies like Mylan to make more money, isn’t certain. Mylan has stated that the company is working on a new formulation that may extend the shelf life to at least 24 months, an extension of six months beyond the current expiration dates. In the meantime, parents need to make the best choices for their children about how and when to use EpiPen.