Oklahomans continue to struggle with skyrocketing cost of insulin


    Many advocates believe Congress needs to take action now to ensure people who need insulin have access to the life-saving medication. (David Young/KOKH)<p>{/p}

    The cost of insulin has soared in the past two decades, from about $30 a vial to ten times that amount.

    “At this point, I think unless there’s a strong political intervention, there’s no way we’re going to be able to do anything about it,” said Dr. Madona Azar, director of adult clinical programs at the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at OU Medicine.

    Nearly 13 percent of adults in Oklahoma have diabetes, and thousands more are diagnosed every year. For many, insulin is the only way to control the disease, and as prices skyrocket - so does their anxiety and desperation.

    “Insulin is a great drug, and it saves her life everyday,” said Clayton McCook, whose daughter Lily was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was three years old.

    “It’s been an interesting seven years,” he said. “Once you get past the initial shock of trying to process everything, then it just becomes ok what do I do next to keep her safe and to keep her healthy.”

    For Lily, that means constantly monitoring her glucose levels and delivering insulin through a pump. Since she was diagnosed, her insulin has doubled in price.

    “It’s just been staggering to watch this trend and trajectory,” McCook said.

    McCook says one vial of insulin costs more than $300 and typically lasts about a month. He’s grateful their family can afford the medication, but he knows not all families are as lucky.

    “People have to choose, do I pay for my insulin or my groceries?” said Dr. Azar. “Which is very unfortunate.”

    Dr. Azar believes there’s no justification for the skyrocketing prices.

    “You’re talking about a 300 to 700 increase in prices of insulin, without really any major explanation,” she said. “The technology is the same as it was 20 years ago. Production is the same.”

    Many of her patients have seen insulin costs go up 10 percent in the past few weeks alone. She tries to help by giving them samples from pharmaceutical companies or prescribing older insulins that are cheaper.

    “They may not be as great as the newer insulins that come in pens and so on, but they do the job,” said Dr. Azar.

    Some of her patients even resort to buying their insulin from other countries.

    “I could go to Canada and go to a pharmacy without a prescription and buy the same exact insulin for less than $50 a vial,” McCook said.

    He’s hopeful both state and federal lawmakers will address the issue soon.

    “Diabetes doesn’t care who you voted for in 2016,” said McCook. “It doesn’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican or an Independent. This is an issue that impacts all Americans, and all Americans need help with this.”

    Nearly half a million people have signed this petition from the American Diabetes Association to “stand up for affordable insulin.

    Reducing the cost of prescription drugs is one of the few goals that both Democrats and President Donald Trump share.

    House Democrats recently announced they have begun an investigation into the pricing practices of the pharmaceutical industry. There have also been several bipartisan pieces of legislation introduced in Congress in the past weeks to address this issue.

    The Trump Administration continues to work on tackling the root causes of soaring drug prices.

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