Doctors add to calls for EpiPen funding


A Far North doctor is warning dollars saved will only mean lives are lost if the Government doesn't start funding an expensive and life-saving device called an EpiPen.

For an increasing number of New Zealanders with severe allergies, an EpiPen could be the difference between life and death, but it's a cost many just can't afford. 

Fourteen-year-old Mikayla Madden-Snoad cannot go anywhere without her EpiPen. Even minute traces of dairy can cause her body to go into severe allergic shock, and her EpiPen -- an adrenalin-filled device -- could mean the difference between life and death.

"It's a bit like a seatbelt; every time you drive in the car you have your seatbelt on just in case you crash, so an EpiPen is like that -- you need to have it with you all the time," says Mikayla.

At up to $180 a pop, they're not cheap.  For Mikayla's parents, it's a financial strain.

"Three-hundred dollars, $360 per year for the 10 to 12 years, so we're looking at $3000 to $4000," says Mikayla's dad, Mark.

"It's difficult. We are spending more than we earn and we are pretty much putting on the mortgage."

For many low-income families, it's a cost they simply cannot afford. It's something Far North GP Dr Lance O'Sullivan is too familiar with.

"EpiPens are a life-saving device, but a lot of the people I'm seeing up here and elsewhere in the country don't have the money to be able to afford at least one EpiPen, but sometimes you need two," he says.

He's even set up a foundation to help people get them.

Although it's not fully understood why, there's a growing number of New Zealander with allergies -- 1.5 million of them.

Getting public funding for EpiPens is a crusade Allergy New Zealand has been on for nearly 20 years. It first applied for funding in 1997.

"Eighteen years it's been in front of Pharmac. It's the longest time any medicine has been in front of their committee having been approved for funding," says Allergy New Zealand chief executive Mark Dixon.

In a statement, Pharmac says it would like to fund EpiPen auto injectors, but it has a fixed budget and hasn't been able to find a supplier that would provide them at the right price.