Josh Wilkerson and his fiancée Rose Walters are photographed at a friend 's wedding in November 2018.
Josh Wilkerson was alone, in dormitories above the kennel in northern Virginia, where he was working, when he had a series of attacks that would have been fatal.
At the age of 26, he had left his father-in-law's health insurance plan and eventually switched to over-the-counter insulin. Like many other diabetics his age, he could not afford the brand of medication he needed.
A few hours after taking another dose of the lower-grade medication that day in June in Leesburg, Wilkerson was plagued by a diabetic coma – his blood sugar level was 17 times higher than what was considered normal.
His death at the age of 27 illustrates the worst case scenario for thousands of people with diabetes and low-income living with diabetes who rely on over-the-counter insulin who at $ 25 per vial at Walmart, is selling ten times cheaper. the more efficient version costs.
"It's very difficult," said his fiancée, Rose Walters, 27, who, like Wilkerson, was born with a congenital form of the disease called type 1 diabetes. "How many young type 1 diabetic patients do they have to die before something finally changes? "
Soaring prices of insulin – which mimics the hormone secreted by the pancreas to regulate glucose in the blood – has caused widespread public outcry in the United States, among the cases of people who died after rationing the blood drug, solicited online financial aid or dared the country looking for better deals.
In Congress, a bipartisan panel called for legislation to reduce insulin costs for the 7.5 million Americans who depend on these drugs, prompting drug manufacturers to offer discounts. Some states apply their own laws.
Last week, the Trump administration announced measures to allow states to import discounted drugs from Canada – a plan that could potentially include insulin, officials said. A few days earlier, Senator Bernie Sanders, an Italian national, had joined a group of people with type 1 diabetes on a bus from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, where they discovered that insulin was being sold to a tiny fraction of what it cost in the United States. States.
"People are dying," said Desralynn Cole, 36, who joined the Democratic presidential candidate on his trip. "Everyone should be concerned about this."
The most affordable drug, sold by Walmart since 2000 under the brand name ReliOn, is called "human insulin". It is prior to the "analog" insulin genetically modified prescribed by doctors.
While human insulin can take up to four hours to produce its effects, with varying success, analog insulin is more accurate and takes only 20 minutes to regulate sugar levels in the body. blood, say patients' lawyers.
However, since analog insulin prices have almost tripled since 2002, doctors have begun recommending the least expensive version as an interim solution – an approved strategy for "some patients" by the American Diabetes Association in a white paper published last year.
Allison Bailey, US advocacy leader for T1 International, a nonprofit organization for people with type 1 diabetes, said that human insulin could be more effective for people with diabetes mellitus. type 2, the form of the disease that develops more often in overweight people. easier to manage with dieting and exercise.
In the United States, an estimated 1.25 million people with type 1 diabetes are using more human insulin. Their bodies are usually unable to produce natural insulin, making them more vulnerable to fluctuations in blood glucose levels without close monitoring, Bailey said.
"There is a lot of room for error," she said. "You need to have individual communication with a health care provider who will guide you through some of these situations, which are not always available to people with low incomes."
Walmart, which has partnered with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk to sell ReliOn, would not disclose insulin sales figures. Todd Hobbs, Novo Nordisk's medical director in North America, said that human insulin works as well as analog insulin if taken long enough before meals.
Marilee McInnes, a spokeswoman for Walmart, warned against using the product without consulting a doctor.
"The high cost of insulin is a concern for those trying to manage their diabetes, and human insulin may be a cheaper alternative, but it might not be suitable for everyone," he said. McInnis in a statement.
Wilkerson learned of ReliOn's existence from his doctor shortly after his 26th birthday and was no longer covered by his father-in-law's health insurance plan, said his family.
At that time, his monthly insulin cost was around $ 1,200 – an impossible expense for $ 16.50 at the time he was earning as a kennel supervisor, who offered a limited form of training. Health insurance.
He and Walters started using insulin purchased at Walmart together in the winter of 2018.
They were engaged the previous summer, during a visit to Virginia Beach. Wilkerson surprised Walters by leaving him a ring attached to a conch to discover in the sand. After finding a home in Berryville and set a wedding date for October, they considered over – the – counter insulin as a way to save money for the rustic ceremony that they wished.
"We thought," It's $ 25. We can do it. And we'll just work with that and try to do our best, "said Walters, who also worked at the kennel." But, does it take so long to intervene? That made me a little scared. "
Wilkerson's mother, Erin Weaver – whose father died of complications related to type 1 diabetes in 1989 – said that her son had assured her that the drugs worked.
"Do not worry, Mom," he wrote in a Facebook post earlier this year after she sent him a link to a press article about a dead man while he was not in trouble. he rationed his insulin.
"He really wanted to be normal," Weaver said.
In fact, Wilkerson had stomach problems and was becoming more unstable, which happened when his blood sugar was high, Walters said. His body reacted more positively to the over-the-counter medication.
"Something in him, you can tell, was different," she said. "I would tell him: 'Check your blood sugar level', and he would check it and it would be high."
In June, Wilkerson agreed to watch the kennel for a week while his boss was on vacation. This involved spending the night in the kennel 's dormitories, but it was a chance to earn a little more money.
The Walters have frequently registered via FaceTime. During his second night, he told her that his stomach was bothering him, promised to take insulin and signed. Walters realized the next morning that she had not heard of her fiancé for more than 12 hours.
She called her phone, but he did not answer. So she rushed to the kennel. He was on the floor, unconscious after what doctors later determined to be multiple strokes.
"I just remember getting it in the face saying, 'Babe, wake up, you have to wake up,' Walters remembered.
Wilkerson had fallen into a vegetative state. He was removed from a hospital ventilator five days later.
Today, Walters is back in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where she grew up and where she met Wilkerson six years ago. She recently found a postman job in the United States, which offers better health insurance which, she hopes, will cover her insulin costs.
Weaver, Wilkerson's mother, has begun advocating for people with type 1 diabetes. She plans to speak at a vigil organized in September by T1International at the Indianapolis headquarters of the maker of Eli Lilly and Company drugs. There, she will ask elected officials and pharmaceutical companies to eliminate what she calls a two-tier health system, in which diabetics benefit from good health insurance or have enough health care. Money to get the drugs they need, while others have to fight.
"It's basically a death sentence," said Weaver, about people forced to ration insulin or dependent on the less reliable form sold over-the-counter. "They do not have health insurance or good jobs to offer what they need, so they end up with the pittance they have left."
(This story has not been changed by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)
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