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The chaotic industry behind the insulin I have to live with



In the winter of 2005, I was so heavy in weight and hungry for energy that I continued to provide any source of sugar to my body. This included swinging a shiny cocktail of sketches dissolved in warm water. My sisters thought it was rude. As I sipped my drink, we watched Law and Order: SVU on TV, but my vision was so blurry that I could barely figure out which characters were which. Their voices helped. Later that evening he woke me up in his bed with simultaneous charlie horses at each of my feet. My pig muscles were so tight that my legs turned to my face, something you only see in scenes of exorcism from horror movies. And just like in The Exorcist I got wet. This was not the first time in the past week that all this had happened. This was the fourth.

Something really was wrong with me.

The next day, my pediatrician stabbed his finger and applied a tiny drop of blood to her hospital glucose meter, a device that measures how much sugar is carried through my veins. The display showed 896. I asked her what she should read. "One hundred," she replied after a long pause. "You have type 1

diabetes." They told me I was hours away from a coma. My dad took me to the hospital.

If this had happened a century earlier, it would have been a death sentence. But today, life with type 1 diabetes is possible, thanks to one thing: insulin. My body did not produce enough hormone to help convert sugars into energy, which means I need help with artificially produced insulin. Just weeks after my 15th birthday, I started a daily regimen of three to four insulin injections, combined with more than 10 finger pricks per day, to track my blood glucose.

Fifteen years later, diabetes management has improved beyond my wildest dreams. The syringes have been replaced with insulin pumps and the pricks of the fingers have been replaced with sensors embedded under the skin. But my insulin? That almost stayed the same. And that's good – except for the fact that the price of that same insulin has almost tripled since I first started using it.


The Price of Insulin from 2002 to 2013
Data: JAMA [19659008] There are a whole bunch of pointing fingers and reasons why – from lack of competition to fuzzy legal obstacles over the approval of next generation drugs – but all these causes have led to almost half of the world's diabetic population without adequate access to the drug. When this happens, diabetics are forced to give insulin and some even try to produce insulin themselves.

In honor of National Diabetes Month, Verge Science's latest video looks at insulin problems and what can be stored for medicine – and for people like me who rely on it every day – in the coming years.


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