A diabetic man's death in Virginia shortly after he aged out of a family health insurance plan is highlighting the deadly consequences of the skyrocketing costs of insulin. Josh Wilkerson, who had Type 1 diabetes, couldn't afford to buy the prescription brand of insulin he needed—at a cost of $1,200 per month—so he settled for less-effective, over-the-counter insulin at a tenth of the price: $25 a vial at Walmart. The "human" insulin predates "analogue" insulin, which is genetically altered to regulate glucose in the blood more rapidly or more uniformly. Indeed, analogue insulin can take effect in just 20 minutes, compared to four hours for human insulin, reports the Washington Post. The result, for Wilkerson, was fatal. A few hours after taking a dose in June, the 27-year-old fell into a coma with blood sugar levels 17 times higher than normal and ultimately suffered several strokes.
Human insulin is particularly risky for patients with Type 1 diabetes, as they're more likely to have seesawing blood sugar levels. "There is a lot of room for error," so a health provider needs to be involved, one advocate tells the Post. That's not always an option for lower-income diabetics. As the price of analogue insulin has almost tripled since 2002, patients have been forced to ration the drug, travel to Canada for cheaper vials, file for bankruptcy, or turn to human insulin as Wilkerson did, per People. Saving up for an October wedding, "we figured, 'Hey, it's $25. We can do that,'" fiancee Rose Walters tells the Post. She found Wilkerson at the dog kennel where he earned $16.50 an hour. "I just remember smacking him on the face, saying, 'Babe, wake up. You have to wake up,'" she says. "How many more young Type 1 diabetes patients have to die before something finally changes?" (This state just capped the insulin price.)