The EpiPen, a spring-loaded device full epinephrine, of has entered the pantheon of modern pharmaceutical chicanery of late after its maker raised its price to $600 a unit. Now, however, you can make your own EpiPencil for about $30.
The EpiPencil is a project by the Four Thieves Vinegar Collective, a group of pharma hackers who are trying to loosen medicine from its arguably necessary commercial restraints. One of the project’s leaders, Dr. Michael Laufer, created a how-to video describing how to make and load the pencil with epinephrine.
“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,” she said. “An EpiPen will give you what you need, she says, “but you can’t guarantee that with this other device.”
Hacking pharmaceuticals is a very dangerous game. But if we run major electrical and transportation systems on “home-grown” Linux why can’t we experiment with simple tools like the Epipen? Given that it’s basically an injection system that can be easily re-engineered in multiple ways there must be a way to re-engineer it to make it cheaper and easier to acquire. Pharmaceutical companies obviously have dueling missions, first the Hippocratic injunction to do no harm and second the impetus to raise money to further research. While many see Big Pharma as rapacious a greater number have been saved by its products. On the other hand we have philosophy of free knowledge and this is one of the most dramatic examples of that principle. While not many folks will follow Laufer’s instructions to hack the system, it’s nice to know the plans are available and out there and someone is thinking about alternatives.
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*This is _not_ an equivalent to a commercial epinephrine auto-injector.*
Point 1: Epinephrine solution _cannot be drawn up manually into a syringe and left for use at an indefinite future date._ Nursing team advice recommends discarding manually pre-loaded syringes within 12-24 hours.
Point 2: The Autoinject 2 used in the instructions is made to _inject at a different depth_ than the epinephrine injectors (subcutaneous vs intramuscular). This will change the effect of the medication administered.
And finally, Point 3 (which was a red flag to me): _”Doctor” Michael Laufer is not an MD._ His PhD is in mathematics. He says as much on the site where the “Epipencil” instructions are hosted (fourthievesvinegar.org/faq) and admits it freely on Twitter as well. _*He does not have the health care experience to advise use of this device._*
Plus, I think the main reason it’s not a good idea to “experiment with simple tools like the Epipen” is that there’s a pretty good chance it will make someone sick (due to the issue of not being able to keep the needle and solution sterile) and a not-insignificant chance that it could kill someone (due to their trying to use it to stop an anaphylactic reaction and it possibly not working). Medication delivery systems to be used in a crisis are not good places for homebrew 🙁