Ask Doc: What is the Big Deal With EpiPens?

   09.06.16

Welcome to a new weekly series where we are going to answer questions related to wilderness/field medicine. I’m going to start with questions I have been asked while adventuring in the world and from questions submitted to the general mailbag.

What is the big deal with EpiPens?

So, EpiPens. First off, what is an EpiPen? It is a device used to assist in the delivery of the correct dose of epinephrine (Epi) for people currently experiencing an anaphylactic allergic reaction (yes, there are other uses for Epi, but not in this context).

An EpiPen is a pretty simple device actually. The drug it delivers is, well, adrenaline. Your body makes it. During an anaphylactic event, you just need a little extra. For reasons (which are really outside the scope of this post).

The recent media hype in the United States around EpiPens is due to the crazy price increase that Mylan saw fit to make. For a device that really hasn’t changed in years, was very cheap, and delivers a very inexpensive, but amazingly lifesaving, medication, suddenly charging hundreds of dollars for a dose prevents people from getting access that otherwise should.

Epi is one of those drugs, in my opinion, that should be widely available to everyone, along with training to use it. We have AEDs in schools, airports, business, etc. Most people have heard of, if not taken, CPR and Basic First Aid. Epi is a truly lifesaving drug, and really, it is not that hard to administer. Someone that needs epinephrine needs that epinephrine right now. Not 15 minutes from now. Not 30 minutes from now. Not in 2 hours, or whenever you can get the patient to EMS.

The one good thing that has come out from Epi being in the news is awareness. If you go on a trip into the backcountry hunting or fishing, or do gardening in your backyard, it is not a bad idea to have Epi available. And whether it is via a couple of auto-injectors (like an Epi Pen) or a multi dose vial and some syringes, everyone should know how to administer it. Right now, the primary way to get training (without going through a full EMS program) is via one of the Wilderness Medicine classes available (generally it is reserved for Wilderness Advanced First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certifications).

Mandatory Disclaimer (lest any of you run off and start pretending to be medics): This article is not a replacement for actually receiving training. It is for your own personal knowledge and is based on best practices and standards of training.

If you have a burning question about a wilderness medicine related concept, feel free to send an email to [email protected] I will pick a question (or two) each week to discuss. You can read about my background below.

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