7News Investigation Finds Wasted Medicine Costing Millions

SHREWSBURY, MA (WHDH) - EpiPens can save a child’s life. But at many local schools, they’re being tossed in the trash.

7NEWS has uncovered millions of dollars wasted on unused EpiPens, and found a local school district that’s doing something about it.

Jenna Merendino, a sophomore at Shrewsbury High School, has been dealing with severe allergies since birth.

“She’s allergic to peanuts, nuts, eggs, milk, all dairy,” said Mary Ellen Merendino, Jenna’s mother.

The week before 7NEWS spoke with her, Jenna accidentally ate an almond.

“Her tongue started to swell. Her lips started to swell. She started to get hives,” her mother said. “It’s very scary. Very, very scary.”

Jenna got by with just Benadryl. But her mother always has an EpiPen at the ready.

“I have three sets of them. One is on person with me when we go out. One is at home. And then one is at school,” Mary Ellen Merendino said.

An estimated 26,000 students in Massachusetts public schools need EpiPens for severe allergies to things like food and bee stings. It’s common school policy that parents have to keep two EpiPens at school, leaving nurses’ offices stuffed with stockpiles of shots.

The problem? EpiPens only have a one-year shelf life. And they can be expensive – each one costs up to $150 today, and they grabbed headlines last year after prices surged even higher.

“It is a high cost medication,” said Noelle Freeman, director of nursing for Shrewsbury Public Schools.

And thankfully, the vast majority of those needles are never needed.

“Fortunately, most of the EpiPens that are brought into school – probably 99 percent of them – expire on our shelves,” Freeman said. “There’s nothing you can do with it once it expires. It gets thrown away and you need to replace it with a fresh one.”

“I have purchased them for 16 years, and none of them got used. So add up the cost,” Mary Ellen Merendino said.

That’s exactly what 7NEWS did.

Using the most recent statewide data from the 2013-2014 school year, 7NEWS found an estimated 52,000 EpiPens sat in Massachusetts public schools. Less than 300 were actually used.

That means for every EpiPen that’s needed inside our state’s schools, 178 are thrown out. That equates to more than $6 million wasted on unused EpiPens.

“For every 300 or so EpiPens that were being stored in the schools in Shrewsbury, we were using zero to one a year, and throwing out 299 or 300 each year,” said Dr. Dale Magee, a retired physician and former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society who is now a member of the Shrewsbury School Committee.

“I’ve been a physician for over 40 years, and I’ve never seen an instance in which you can maintain or improve the quality of the care you’re delivering to a patient and cut the cost by over 99 percent,” Magee said.

Magee straddles the worlds of health and education, and was the brainchild of Shrewsbury’s first-of-its-kind policy, which began last fall.

Parents there are no longer required to provide EpiPens at their child’s school. Instead, they can choose to rely on the school’s own supply. Many schools already keep stock EpiPens for students who have severe allergies but don’t know it yet, and thus have their first allergic reaction at school.

“I think it can save millions of dollars just in the state of Massachusetts,” Magee said.

The Massachusetts Medical Society is now calling for expanding Shrewsbury’s financial shot in the arm statewide. It recently passed a resolution encouraging school districts “to adopt as policy use of their own emergency supply of epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens) instead of requiring parents to purchase individually labeled epinephrine auto-injectors for each child.”

“I was really excited to hear about the new policy,” Merendino said. “It’s a tremendous savings in my pocket because I don’t have to purchase yet another EpiPen and just let it sit there and expire.”

Two bills requiring schools to keep an emergency supply of EpiPens were filed on Beacon Hill in January. One would bill the federal government for the cost of providing stock EpiPens at schools, while the other would pass the cost on to health insurers.

One of the bills was scheduled for its first formal legislative hearing on Thursday morning.

Regardless of who pays for the EpiPens, school districts would still need to pass their own policies letting parents off the hook.

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