American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced earlier this month that it will release a generic form of its insulin product at half the price of the branded original, Humalog®. This generic version of insulin, called Insulin Lispro, will be made available in vial and pen form. One vial will cost $137.35, and a five-pack of Kwik Pens will cost $265.20.
A Long Overdue Solution
American diabetics have long suffered under the consequences of an extremely expensive pharmaceutical market. Some diabetic patients have even turned to rationing their doses in a desperate attempt to afford insulin.
Alec Raeshawn Smith, a Type 1 diabetes patient, died of diabetic ketoacidosis (i.e., a fatal condition that happens when you don’t have enough insulin) in 2017, three days before his payday. His mother believes he had been rationing his insulin to save money.
According to BBC News, Laura Marston, another diabetic patient, had to sell her car, furniture, retirement fund, dog, and even her apartment to afford insulin.
For many diabetic Americans like Smith and Marston, a more affordable form of insulin that Eli Lilly produces could be life-saving.
Is this life-saving solution a genuine one on the part of Eli Lilly?
Some media news outlets believe Eli Lilly’s decision was merely a PR move made after heavy and publicized pressure on the pharmaceutical industry. For instance, David Lazarus, writing for the Los Angeles Times, says that Eli Lilly is merely “avoid[ing] the unpleasantness of an honest-to-goodness price cut of its name-brand drug, which would raise questions about all its pricing decisions and scare the bejeepers out of shareholders, who rely on overpriced medicine as a profit driver.” Lazarus also argues that the company is “openly acknowledging that its list price is unconscionable and unethical.”
Interested readers can read the original company press release that came out on March 4, 2019.
Why is this solution so important to Americans with diabetes, anyway?
To see why Eli Lilly’s solution is so monumentally critical for many American diabetics, we need to first define diabetes and insulin.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is one of the most well-known chronic conditions that you probably know someone who has diabetes.
The condition is usually diagnosed when a doctor finds that a patient’s blood glucose levels are too high. The reason for this is that diabetic patients either do not produce enough or any insulin, which is the hormone that the body uses to lower blood glucose levels.
Once diagnosed, patients are defined as a Type 1 or Type 2 patient. But what are the differences between the two?
Type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age, but it is found most commonly in children and young adults. These patients cannot make insulin at all.
Type 2 diabetes is more common and can also be diagnosed at any age. Patients with this type can be like Type 1 patients, where their bodies cannot make insulin at all. Or they can make insulin, but have difficulties using it properly. Risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes include being overweight and having an immediate family member with Type 2 diabetes.
Is diabetes serious?
Yes. If left untreated, diabetes can be a very serious and even fatal disease. It is also not uncommon in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that 30.3 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, which equates to about 9.4% of the nation’s population. Such a large population of people with this chronic illness means it exerts a significant economic impact on the country.
Myths about Diabetes
Unfortunately, some people believe that diabetes is a choice. “If you don’t eat unhealthily, you won’t get diabetes, and you won’t have to buy expensive medicine.”
While overweight and obese people are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, this is not the only risk factor. Diabetes can occur in individuals of a healthy weight. And in some cases, family history, genetics, and ethnicity can predetermine who gets the condition, regardless of their overall health.
Can diabetes be cured?
You may be wondering if you can simply return to a pre-diabetic state and not have to pay for insulin.
A recent experiment suggests this may be possible, but it will not be easy. Successful participants in the study lost a significant amount of weight through a radical diet program that consisted of 825–853 calories a day for three to five months. Of course, this is not easily attainable for most of us, at least not without dedicated, professional support.
Unfortunately, this study may have caused two serious adverse events in one participant, so the safety of this program remains unknown.
It’s also important to note that making diabetes go away is not exactly a cure, but remission. Diabetes can return, and with it, comes the need for insulin.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone produced in the human pancreas that controls blood glucose levels. It helps your body effectively use glucose from food. Some diabetics may not be able to produce this hormone; others may produce too little of it. They may also just be incapable of using insulin effectively.
Making insulin cheaper is possible.
Researchers of a paper published in BMJ Global Health estimated that if a similar, competitive insulin market were to exist, insulin could be as cheap as $72–$133 in America per year.
The problem is, insulin differs from most other medications because it is technically not a drug but a biological substance. Each formula made from each company is unique. According to the BBC, the problem with creating a generic version of insulin is that it requires access to companies’ patented materials and procedures. Obviously, this information is fiercely protected.
What can I do while waiting to see if I’m eligible for this solution?
For the time being, many Americans are buying their prescriptions, such as the diabetes drug metformin, online from an international and Canadian pharmacy referral service. This type of service grants patients access to significantly cheaper medicine shipped from countries where the price regulation of drugs is much stricter.
For many patients, affordable medicine can mean the difference between life and death.
DISCLAIMER: The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.