Insulin should not cost diabetics their lives

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, so I’d like to call attention to the life-threatening cost of insulin for Type 1 diabetics.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease affecting those whose pancreases do not produce the hormone insulin.

After eating, our bodies break down the carbohydrates into blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, which is later used for energy. Typically, the pancreas secretes insulin, enabling blood sugar to get from the bloodstream to the cells of the body.

Without insulin, blood sugar cannot enter the body’s cells and builds up in the bloodstream, causing high blood sugar, which can lead to damaging and life-threatening complications.

Everybody needs insulin for basic survival – yet those who physically cannot produce it, have to pay for it.

Currently, there aren’t any known ways to prevent Type 1 diabetes and those with the autoimmune disease must rely on daily insulin shots to manage their blood sugar levels – which comes at a steep cost for many.

A study from 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the cost of insulin skyrocketed from 2002 to 2013, with the typical cost rising from about $40 a vial to $130. One vial can usually last about a week or two, though the amount of insulin needed varies depending on the person.

Another study presented in June by the American Diabetes Association found that nearly 25 percent of American diabetes patients do not properly take insulin due to its current cost.

Cutting back on one’s proper dose of insulin is extremely dangerous and can lead to complications such as blindness, loss of limbs, kidney failure, and can even result in death.

The well-known death of Alec Raeshawn Smith at the ripe age of 26 highlights the deadly consequences of insulin rationing. Smith had recently been removed from his parents’ health insurance and reduced his dosage when he could not afford his medication.

Smith’s fate is an unfortunate reality many Type 1 diabetics and their loved ones fear.

My seven-year-old nephew is a Type 1 diabetic and when he was first diagnosed, my sister said she was very lonely, worried, and sad. She said that without her health insurance, the cost of his prescriptions and doctors’ visits would break her financially.

She eventually found the Diabetes Online Community and joined private Facebook groups in which she can interact with other members affected by the autoimmune disease.

She said, “Our posts are a variety of things – frustrations, worries, immediate diabetes questions, successes, proud moments, sad moments, funny stories, and support for one another.”

The posts in the online community are normally confidential, but my sister requested comments from anyone willing to anonymously share their experiences with high prices of insulin.

One member responded, “The ever-rising cost is making me ration my insulin. I know that you are supposed to toss any insulin after 30 days, but I use the bottle for long after that. Also, I reuse the needles for as long as I can – until I can’t get them to go in my skin anymore.”

Too many people are unaware of the detriment the cost of insulin causes those who cannot produce it – let alone afford it.

Type 1 diabetes does not have to affect you or loved ones in order for this issue to inspire you to demand change and better access to insulin and more affordable healthcare.

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