The thought of paying $600 for medication that could save their child’s life from an allergic reaction has enraged many parents forced to shell out the cash for a non-negotiable treatment.
But amid the soaring coast of EpiPens, a hacking medical collective has engineered a device that does the same thing — for $30.
In a YouTube video, Four Thieves Vinegar demonstrate how to make the “EpiPencil,” its knockoff version of the spring-loaded injector used when someone is in the throes of an allergic reaction. The bootleg version uses an auto-injector meant for diabetes medication, a needle and a syringe. There’s also a sticker with injection instructions that can be printed and placed on the device.
Michael Laufer of Four Thieves Vinegar said his group had gotten many requests to “do something” about the EpiPen, so it came up with the device assembled entirely from off-the-shelf parts. Laufer is not a medical doctor and the device has not been regulated or tested by the Food and Drug Administration.
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Bioethisists warn that the manufacture of such a device created in such a way could be extremely dangerous.
“If your child is having a life-threatening allergic reaction, you want to make sure they get the right medicine, at the right time, at the right dose,” Jennifer Miller, medical ethics professor at New York University, told Spectrum. She said there are no guarantees the EpiPencil would preform correctly in a high-stress situation where seconds could mean the difference between life and death.
Although Laufer gives instructions for constructing the device, a prescription for epinephrine, the drug that eases anaphylactic shock, is still needed to construct the EpiPencil.
Four Thieves Vinegar aims to fight “disenfranchisement” from access to medicine, whether it be due to cost, legality or geographic location. The exorbitant price of EpiPen, manufactured by drug company Mylan, is a prime example of the system it seeks to disrupt. Another is the high cost of HIV/AIDS drugs.
“Someone dies of AIDS every minute, and many of these deaths could have been prevented by the simple administration of pharmaceuticals,” Laufer said. “I qualify that as murder—and I feel complicit.”
Miller disagreed with this logic.
“He’s basically saying, we should deregulate drugs, and allow anyone to make anything. That is not safe,” Miller said. “We once had that system, and people died from it.”