Regardless Of Price, Don’t Buy Your EpiPen On eBay

With the price of emergency allergy treatment EpiPen jumping nearly 600% in less than a decade, bringing the out-of-pocket cost for some patients to $600 for a two-pack, it’s perhaps not surprising that sketchy eBay sellers are claiming to offer the prescription medication at a discount, even though it’s against eBay policy, illegal, and just a really, really, really awful idea.

The presence of EpiPens on eBay isn’t a new scenario. We found people talking about the supposed availability of the auto-injector in 2005 post on a peanut allergy forum. The folks chatting in that forum all seemed to agree — wisely — that making the purchase would be a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean someone didn’t eventually end up purchasing that EpiPen, or that desperate buyers aren’t trying to snap up the pens currently being sold on the site.

Not Allowed

We all know that it’s a federal crime to resell, or distribute controlled substances like opioids or psychoactive drugs, but EpiPens, like antibiotics, fall into the category of drugs that require a prescription but are not on the DEA’s Controlled Substances list. A rep for the agency told Consumerist that the DEA would likely not be involved in any cases involving epinephrin, the active ingredient in EpiPens.

Meanwhile, the FDA, Justice Department, FBI, and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy have yet to respond to our requests for clarification on the legality of selling or reselling these.

[UPDATE: A spokesperson for the FDA clarifies to Consumerist “only a retail pharmacy or medical practitioner licensed by the states may distribute prescription drugs to consumers pursuant to a valid prescription. Similarly, with few exceptions, only licensed wholesale pharmacies may distribute prescription drugs to someone other than a consumer (for example, one licensed wholesale pharmacy selling prescription drugs to a licensed retail or wholesale pharmacy).”]

A federal government source did, however, confirm to Consumerist that the sale of prescription medications, like EpiPen, is not permitted without a prescription.

We also spoke to pharmacists who pointed out that it is the states that set their respective laws for dispensing prescriptions and state-level regulations generally say that only properly licensed operations can dispense these medications.

For example, Pennsylvania state regulations forbid a person from offering to fill or refill “prescriptions for a consumer or patient in this Commonwealth if that person is not licensed under the act or the prescription is not filled or refilled in a pharmacy licensed by the Board.”

Likewise Florida state rules say that a prescription must come from a licensed practitioner and be dispensed by a person “authorized by the laws of this state to do so.” Further, prescription drugs are to be dispensed for use by only the person to whom the drug has been prescribed.

Regardless of legal issues, eBay’s own policy is clear, barring “Any substance the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines as requiring a prescription,” and specifically calling out “Injectable substances” as forbidden.

Furthermore, eBay reminds sellers they can’t list any prescription drug mentioned in the FDA’s “Orange Book: Approved Drug Products with Therapeutic Equivalence Evaluations.”

A search of the book lists “Epinephrine” three times as EpiPen, EpiPen Jr., and EpiPen E Z Pen.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.34.20 AM

Rules? What Rules?

In spite of the legal limits and eBay’s stated policies, we found hundreds of eBay sellers offering the coveted EpiPens, sometimes at prices that raise more questions than answers.

Not all of the search results were for actual EpiPens. A number were for “trainer” pens (used to teach children and other how to administer the injectable) or carrying cases, but we still found some listings claiming to contain actual EpiPen injectors for as low as $10, and upwards of $350.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.26.00 AM Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.23.16 AM Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.22.48 AM Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.22.27 AM

Just Don’t. Seriously

Forget about the legal concerns or that you might lose your eBay account. Buying prescription medication online from a complete stranger is simply a very bad idea.

Our colleagues at Consumer Reports warned consumers of the danger of buying drugs on eBay back in 2012 when there was a shortage of Excedrin. Now imagine you’re not talking about an over-the-counter painkiller, but an injectable form of adrenaline that is intended to only be used in medical emergencies.

If someone who didn’t need adrenaline were to be injected, it could cause anxiety, tremor, weakness, dizziness, sweating, palpitations, pallor, nausea and vomiting, headache, and respiratory difficulties.

And that’s assuming that the EpiPen you purchase isn’t expired, tampered with or — the one thing you don’t really want when facing anaphylaxis — empty.

CR and other health advocates suggest that customers looking to buy medication online should stick with legitimate sources.

“From a medical standpoint, purchasing prescription drugs online that purportedly were previously dispensed to another patient is a very bad idea,” explains Michael Carome, M.D., Director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen. “While the drugs may be cheaper, they are potentially unsafe because there is a much higher likelihood that such drugs may be tainted, counterfeited or deteriorated in some way. Patients should only fill prescriptions through a licensed pharmacy.”

Is eBay Doing Anything?

While eBay bars the sale of these drugs, their continued presence on the site — a number of the items we looked at had been available on eBay for at least a week — raises the question of what the company is doing to actually rein in these illicit sales.

eBay notes in its policies that if users find a post that violates the rules, they can report it to customer service.

“You can contact Customer Service to report a listing you think violates this policy. Go to that listing, and then click the Report item link on the right side of the page,” the site says. “We’ll review your report and take appropriate action.”

It’s unclear what exactly that action is: are listings taken down, are posters banned? We’ve reached out to eBay for information on how it addresses such postings, but have yet to hear anything back.

The Bottom Line: If you’re thinking of trying to buy a pack of EpiPens for a discount on eBay, think again. Although you might be spending less to acquire these medications on eBay, you could be putting your safety at risk.

Was this helpful? We’re a non-profit! You can get more stories like this in our twice weekly ad-free newsletter! Click here to sign up.