BOSTON (CBS) — They are potentially life-saving devices for people with severe food allergies.
But after a worldwide recall of the EpiPen, some families say they had to wait far too long for a replacement. And they are criticizing Mylan, the company that manufactures the devices, for how it has managed the process.
At first glance, Nolan Maxwell is the typical, active 10-year-old who likes to shoot hoops immediately after getting home from school.
However, like a growing number of kids, Nolan has to be extra vigilant about what he eats. The fourth-grader has a life-threatening food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts.
For that reason, a set of EpiPens is never far away. The Clinton, Mass. elementary student always carries them in his backpack and keeps an extra set at school and at home.
“I can’t ever forget them,” he told WBZ. “It’s my life.”
So when Mylan recently announced the massive recall, Nolan’s mom, Melissa, immediately checked the website and looked to see if any of their EpiPens could be potentially defective.
“My first reaction was panic,” Melissa expressed.
It turned out the set Nolan keeps at school needed to be replaced, so Melissa contacted the recall phone number provided by Mylan to get a voucher.
“When I called, they told me the hold time was 97 minutes and it was longer than that until I finally talked to a person,” she recalled.
After finally speaking with a representative, Melissa said she was told the call center would get back to her at a later date with her voucher information.
When she protested waiting longer, Melissa said the representative told her, “It’s not a problem. The medicine that is in there is still fine. You just might have to push harder to get it out.”
Growing angry, Melissa asked to speak with a supervisor. That person only made the situation worse, she said.
“At that point, the supervisor said, ‘I don’t know what your circumstances are, but emergency medical services should be available in your area if there’s truly an emergency.’ It was an incredibly ill-informed and insensitive thing to tell a person whose child has life-threatening food allergies,” Melissa said.
After the phone conversation, Melissa checked a food allergies Facebook group for mothers and read about similar frustrations over the recall process. Other moms described calling to get voucher information and never hearing back.
It is the latest dose of bad news for the pharmaceutical giant, which faced backlash and even congressional hearings last year over price-gouging allegations.
“I’m appalled at how poorly they handled it,” Melissa said. “It’s like they don’t even care about their reputation.”
WBZ reached out to Mylan and a spokesperson acknowledged a bumpy rollout to the recall process.
“We are aware that callers have experienced extended wait times and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience,” the company said in an email. “We have worked closely with Stericycle, our recall management vendor, to increase staff trained to manage calls more quickly and reduce call wait times.”
Mylan told WBZ that average wait times are now averaging less than 10 seconds.
Melissa also received a phone call from a Mylan representative, who apologized and offered to ensure she received the needed voucher information.
But Melissa said her son is fortunate enough to own several sets of EpiPens. She worries about families who can only afford one pack that is now affected by the recall.
“It’s absolutely critical that families who need them have access to them immediately,” she said. “It’s life-saving medication.”
Mylan said it is important food allergy patients continue to carry their current EpiPen until they receive a replacement device.