New Law Lets Businesses Get EpiPen Prescriptions to Save Lives

Restaurants, day care centers and other businesses will be able to stock and administer life-saving prescription medicine to immediately treat severe allergic reactions in their diners, pupils or customers under a bill signed Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The governor, however, took the unusual step of condemning the pharmaceutical company that makes the lifesaving drug known as the EpiPen, or epinephrine auto-injectors, in a bill-signing message that spoke of “unconscionable price increases.”

AB1386 by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-San Jose, was sponsored by Mylan, a Pennsylvania drugmaker that has been pushing states to allow doctors to prescribe EpiPens to businesses and organizations so that the drug can be kept at workplaces and public places in the event of a severe allergic reaction.

“At the very time Mylan was boosting sales of EpiPens by sponsoring bills like AB1386 throughout the country, it raised the cost of EpiPens from approximately $100 for a pack of two in 2008 to over $600 today, an increase of 500 percent,” Brown wrote in his signing message. “It’s worth noting that during this same period, Mylan raised its CEO’s annual salary to nearly $19 million, a 600 percent increase.”

Still, Brown said he was signing the bill because the EpiPen can save a person’s life. Without the law, only doctors could prescribe EpiPens to patients, schools, trained volunteers and medical professionals. Supporters of the law said it will make the drug readily available in more locations in the event that someone suffers anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction most commonly from foods, insect stings, medications or latex.

Businesses will be eligible for the prescription in January when the law becomes effective.

Brown said state governments can’t stop companies like Mylan from price gouging, but they can highlight their “rapacious corporate behavior.”

In addition to the signing message, Brown wrote a letter to congressional leaders Friday asking that they work to rein in the “predatory practices” by companies like Mylan. A House Oversight Committee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, when lawmakers plan to question Mylan’s top executives, including chief executive Heather Bresch, about the company’s significant price increases. Bresch is the daughter of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Amid outrage over the drug’s price, Mylan announced last month that it will introduce a generic version of the product at half the price. Lawmakers have urged the Food and Drug Administration to speed up its approval for the generic version. The cheaper version of the EpiPen is expected to cost $300 for a two-pack, which critics have said is still expensive, particularly for a drug that is cheap to make.

“As important as this hearing is, hearings alone will not transform this powerful company and the industry of which it is a part,” Brown wrote to congressional leaders. “What is needed is swift and strong congressional action because states have no jurisdiction to curb these wanton price increases. I implore you to take quick and decisive steps to rein in this kind of predatory pricing, which inflates the cost of health care and too often prevents patients from getting the medications they need.”

SB1386 will allow businesses, sports arenas, Scout troops, colleges and others that want to keep an EpiPen on hand to receive a prescription from a doctor. The bill does not require businesses or groups to participate, but it does provide liability protections for any that do. A 2014 law requires public schools in California to stock EpiPens and have someone on campus trained to use them, but increasingly states have been passing laws that allow businesses to ensure customers have access to the drug in places such as restaurants, where severe allergic reactions to nuts or other foods can occur.

“Every three minutes, an allergic reaction sends someone to the emergency room in the U.S.,” said Scott Riccio, senior vice president at the advocacy group Food Allergy Research & Education. “So, it’s crucial that epinephrine, the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis — a serious allergic reaction — is widely available.”

Low, the bill’s author, said the law will save lives but added that he shares Brown’s concerns about the company that will profit from the legislation.

“To have a 500 percent price increase for lifesaving medicine, while the salary of Mylan’s CEO has increased 600 percent, is simply unconscionable,” Low said. “This behavior is unacceptable and must be reversed quickly.”

Melody Gutierrez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez

Other bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown

AB1978 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, will create workplace protections for janitors who say their nighttime shifts make them targets for sexual harassment and assault. Janitors were staging a fast outside the Capitol while waiting for the governor to act on the bill. AB1978 requires sexual harassment and assault prevention training for janitors and their employers beginning in 2018.

“These women are working hard to provide for their families, yet working in the shadows has allowed sexual harassment and assault to become part of their jobs,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “At the very least, we owe these women the tougher rules and protections provided by AB1978 that match the threat they’re facing every night shift.”

SB1095 by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, will expand statewide screening of newborns by making it easier for theDepartment of Public Health to add new diseases to the list of what doctors screen for.

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