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The chaotic industry behind the insulin I need to live



In the winter of 2005 I was so severely underweight and hungry for energy that I worked hard to provide my body with any source of sugar. That included drinking a sparkling Skittles cocktail dissolved in warm water. My sisters thought it was gross. While drinking my drink, we watched Law and Order: SVU on television, but my vision was so blurry that I could barely understand which characters were which. Their voices helped. Later that night, I was awakened in my bed by simultaneous charley horses on each of my legs. My calf muscles were so tight that my feet spun toward my face, something you only see in horror movie exorcism scenes. And just like in The Exorcist, I got wet. It wasn't the first time last week that all this happened. It was the fourth.

Something was really wrong with me.

The next day, my pediatrician jabbed my finger and applied a small drop of blood to his hospital-grade glucometer, a device that measures the amount of sugar that runs in my veins. The display read 896. I asked what to read. "One hundred," she answered after a long pause. "You have type 1 diabetes." They told me it was time for a coma. My father rushed me to the hospital.

If that had happened a century earlier, it would have been a death sentence. Today, however, it is possible to live with type 1 diabetes, thanks to one thing: insulin. My body wasn't producing enough of the hormone, which helps convert sugars into energy, and that meant I needed some help from artificially produced insulin. Just weeks after my 15th birthday, I started a daily regimen of three to four insulin injections along with more than 10 finger bites a day to monitor my blood glucose.

Fifteen years later, diabetes control improved beyond my wildest dreams. Syringes were replaced by insulin pumps and finger pricks were replaced by sensors embedded under the skin. But my insulin? This pretty much remained the same. And that is good – except that the price of that same insulin has nearly tripled since I started using it.


The price of insulin from 2002 to 2013.
Data: JAMA

There are many reasons to point the finger, and reasons – from lack of competition to inaccurate legal obstacles surrounding the approval of next-generation medicines – but all of these reasons have led to almost half of the world's diabetic population not having adequate access. to the medicine. damn it. When this happens, diabetics are forced to ration their insulin, and some even try to make insulin.

In honor of the National Diabetes Month, Border The latest Science video looks at the problems surrounding insulin and what may be in store for the drug – and for people like me who depend on it every day – for years to come.


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