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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Son

Make Insulin Affordable Again

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

A study done in 2015 shows that 30.3 million Americans (approximately 9.4% of the population) have diabetes. Also in 2015, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the nation. Diabetes is a disease that affects how people use glucose (the main type of sugar in the blood), and those with diabetes have higher blood sugar levels than normal because of the disease. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin, the hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood, because the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin. If people with type 1 diabetes don’t take insulin, they can get hyperglycemic (have too high blood sugar levels) and risk death. In people with type 2 diabetes (who make up around 90-95% of diabetics), the body doesn’t react normally to the insulin produced by the pancreas. Glucose is not always able to enter the cells and supply energy (called insulin resistance), which raises blood sugar levels. As a result, the pancreas needs to work harder to produce insulin, but this strain can cause the pancreas to not be able to produce enough insulin to control blood sugar levels. Those with type 2 diabetes can control their disease with a proper diet and exercise, but they can also inject insulin into their bloodstreams to help control their blood sugar levels.

14% of diabetics use insulin to control their blood sugar. Insulin pens are one of the most convenient ways for diabetics to get the insulin that they need. For some diabetics, it is even a matter of life or death.

The first insulin pen was introduced in 1985 by the company Novo Nordisk. Today, three companies (Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk) produce about 99% of the world’s insulin. This means that these three companies can control the price of the drug without competing prices from other brands. In 1996, a vial of insulin from the company Humalog cost $21. In 2017, just 21 years later, the vial cost $275.

The rising costs of insulin in the US have led diabetics who need insulin pens to survive to put their lives at risk. Those who can’t afford the vital drug are forced to either buy from second-hand vendors or ration the insulin that they do have to make it last longer. Buying and selling insulin on the black market is something that diabetics can be forced to turn to because of the high cost of the drug. Getting insulin in this way is not reliable- the insulin is not always safe, vendors don’t always have good intentions, and those who can’t afford a drug to save their lives are left feeling like they have to resort to breaking the law to get insulin. Those who have to ration insulin face an equally life-threatening situation.

Insulin is an indispensable hormone, and it should not be hard for those that need insulin to get it. Diabetics should not have to risk their lives simply because they can’t afford the medication to help them stay alive. But the reality of getting insulin in the US is that it’s costly, not just in terms of money, but in terms of human life.

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