Allergic reaction Recall panic: Columbia producer sees widespread public reliance on its emergency drug-injector device.

May 25, 1998

NATIONAL Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month got the kind of publicity this May that was a mixed blessing, highlighting the life-threatening nature of these extreme sensitivities and the need for more affected persons to get medical help.

A million EpiPen emergency injection pens used by people who suffer serious allergic reactions were recalled by the Columbia manufacturer. The dose was not strong enough to stop acute swelling and shock reactions to certain foods (such as fish and peanuts), allergens and insect venom.

The devices made by Meridian Medical Technologies Inc. are the first line of defense for many of the 5 million Americans with intense food allergies and the 10 million hypersensitive to bee stings. People who feel a reaction begin can press the epinephrine-loaded device to their skin and quickly inject the allergy-fighting drug for relief before receiving medical attention.

Meridian recalled the subpotent units because of concern that the drug had leaked from the containers as a result of faulty manufacture.

Widespread public anxiety, in some cases panic, over the recallreflects the unique status of the EpiPen as a life-saver for the acutely allergic. Meridian is the only producer and has been unable to meet with the surging demand for replacement units. The only substitute readily available requires trained injection of the drug with a syringe.

About 1 million Americans a year suffer severe allergic reactions requiring emergency treatment. Many of them don't have or use the epinephrine injectors. Indeed, the publicity heightened demand from at-risk individuals who had not bothered to buy the prescription device before.

Pub Date: 5/25/98

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