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Man, 27, dies after he and fiancée switch to over-the-counter insulin to save money

The rising cost of insulin in the U.S.
The price of insulin, needed by people living with diabetes, has nearly doubled in the U.S. within a five-year period.

When Josh Wilkerson’s insulin was no longer covered by his dad’s insurance plan, he had to cut costs by using a cheaper brand. The switch sadly cost him his life.

Aging out of his dad’s plan at 27 meant the Virginia native, a Type 1 diabetic, would have to pay US$1,200 a month for the medicine he required.

Only making minimum wage working at a dog kennel, it was next to impossible for him to afford.

His doctor let him in on his options, offering a lower-grade insulin alternative that he could purchase at Walmart, called ReliOn.

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He and his fiancée, Rose Walters, both have Type 1 diabetes and decided to try out ReliOn together, she explained to The Washington Post.

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“We figured: Hey, it’s $25. We can do that,” she told the publication. “And we’ll just work with it and try to do the best we can.”

ReliOn is manufactured by pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and sold by the global one-stop-shop store.

While a quick Walmart.ca search shows that ReliOn is not sold in Canada, Health Canada approved the sale of Tresiba, manufactured by Novo Nordisk Canada, in 2017.

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Quinn Ohler talks about being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes
Quinn Ohler talks about being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes

The Post reports that ReliOn can take up to four hours to metabolize and regulate blood sugar levels — as opposed to prescription insulin that takes 20 minutes — meaning planning doses has to be precise.

“The fact that it takes so long to kick in? It scared me a little,” she said, explaining that once Wilkerson started taking it, he experienced severe stomach problems and mood swings.

“Something in him, you could just tell, was different,” Walters remarked. “I would tell him, ‘Check your blood sugar,’ and he would check it, and it would be high.”

Months before their wedding in June, Wilkerson stayed overnight at his Northern Virginia dog kennel to make some extra cash.

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After not hearing him for many hours, she rushed to check on him. Walters found her fiancé unconscious.

Just hours after taking the medication, doctors found he’d suffered several strokes and fell into diabetic coma. His blood sugar was 17 times higher than normal and five days later, he was taken off life support.

“It’s very hard,” she said. “How many more young Type 1 diabetes patients have to die before something finally changes?”

Marilee McInnis, a Walmart spokeswoman, cautioned against using the product without consulting a physician.

“The high cost of insulin is a concern for those trying to manage their diabetes, and human insulin can be a less expensive alternative, but it may not be right for everyone,” McInnis said in a statement.

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Bernie Sanders joins group of Americans with diabetes to purchase cheaper insulin in Windsor, Ont.
Bernie Sanders joins group of Americans with diabetes to purchase cheaper insulin in Windsor, Ont.

Wilkerson’s mom, Erin Weaver, says it’s a “death sentence” for those forced to ration their insulin or buy cheaper alternatives.

“They have no health insurance or good jobs to afford what they need, so they’re left with the pittance that is left,” she told People.

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Diabetic Americans are suffering from extremely high insulin prices, leading many to travel to Canada for a cheaper alternative.

Back in July, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took a chartered bus filled with a dozen people to Windsor, Ont., to bring awareness to the problem.

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In Canada, one vial of insulin costs around US$32, while in the United States it can cost up to US$325. One vial last about five days, meaning Americans can be forking out up to $2,000 a month.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Health, patients on a provincial social assistance program or patients 65 and older will have a portion of their insulin covered.

For those 65 and older making $16,018 a year or more, an annual $100 deductible is to be paid. After that, a payment of $6.11 per prescription is collected.

Regular coverage across Canada varies. Effective January 2018, Ontarians aged 25 and under with Type 1 diabetes would have their insulin covered by OHIP+, a bonus to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) which covers over 4,000 drugs listed on the Ontario Drug Benefit list.

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Otherwise, patients must be privately insured for costs to be covered.

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca