Spiking insulin costs causing dangerous behavior in diabetics

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Christopher Noble is one of 7 million Americans who need insulin to manage their diabetes.

For many, the cost is becoming increasingly difficult to manage, including those patients who have healthcare insurance.


Noble is a 28-year-old public health worker who has had to ration his insulin supply at times, despite knowing how dangerous that can be.

"Every person with type 1 diabetes that I’ve ever met has rationed their insulin," he told Boston 25 News. "They know how much insulin they have in their fridge at any one moment."

Noble says 20 years ago it was possible to buy a dose of insulin for $20.%



"[Now] it's upwards of $300 if you’re buying it in a vial, up to $500 if you are buying it in another form,” he said.

Noble is active with the RightCare Alliance, a Brookline based group that’s putting pressure on the three major manufactures of insulin: Elli Lilly and Company, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi.

The group has held a number of protests out the US headquarters of Sanofi in Cambridge.

“The time for talk is over. We need action and people are willing to even take to the streets in order to see that action fulfilled," Doctor Vikas Sinai of the RightCare Alliance added.

Healthcare advocates say the price increases of insulin are not justified because the drug has been around for so many years.

The alliance cites the death of several individuals who died because they couldn’t get the insulin they needed.

Rationing insulin can lead to a deadly coalition known as diabetes ketoacidosis.%



Advocates also say there are many examples of patients using expired drugs, obtaining insulin on the black market, or traveling to Canada to get what they need.

In a statement, a Sanofi spokesperson told Boston 25 News the company has a program for anyone who can’t afford the medicine they need. They added they’re taking the situation seriously and continue to look for long term solutions.

Another pricing problem is that there is no generic version of insulin and there doesn’t appear to be one on the horizon.

It’s important to note that the drug companies are not doing anything illegal. This is just another example of how drugs are priced in the United States, according to Todd Brown, a clinical professor and vice chair at Northeastern University’s school of pharmacy.

Brown added that changing the system of pricing drugs in the United States is complicated.

“How are were going to determine how much we pay for drugs to keep that balance of providing an incentive to the drug companies, but also having prices that we can afford?" he said.

Brown also said the spike in the price of insulin is similar to price increases for some other drugs in recent years.