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10 Jul, 2019 09:18

‘Astronomical’ US drug prices see people drive to Canada for life-saving insulin

‘Astronomical’ US drug prices see people drive to Canada for life-saving insulin

Big Pharma’s price-gouging has forced a group of Americans to take a 15-hour drive across the border to Canada just to buy life-saving drugs and avoid the “astronomical cost” at home, one of the trip’s organizers told RT.

In the US, the price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013, growing by another 64 percent since. In order to get the life-saving medicine, a group of people from Minnesota recently spent 15 hours driving more than 815 miles (1,311km) on a bus to Canada, where it is much cheaper.

Many Americans just can’t afford to buy the drugs they desperately need at home, the trip’s co-organizer Quinn Nystrom told RT, adding that the price difference across the border is “huge.”

I just went to CVS in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The retail price of the vial [of insulin] is $340. When I went to London, Ontario to pick it up at Walmart pharmacy there, in US dollars the retail price was $26.

“From the high cost of insulin, I’ve had to go into debt because of it,” she said. “I’ve had to put it on credit card. I’ve had to reach out to family members to help me pay for it because it had gotten too expensive, and I can’t cover it because of astronomical cost.”

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Organizing the voyage was no simple feat. The trip took Nystrom’s group across five US states, making the occasional stop along the way to add passengers and cars to the caravan. There were other obstacles for the travelers as well, Nystrom told RT. Even after completing the cross-country journey, some Canadian pharmacies still turned the group away, fearing negative media attention.

A myriad of institutional and economic factors have contributed to the staggering spike in insulin prices in the US over the years, but some experts argue a lack of market competition in the pharmaceutical industry is to blame. Regulations imposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, can lock out smaller competitors who might be able to provide cheaper alternatives.

“Sometimes what happens in the United States is the FDA requires the pharmaceutical industry to have certain standards of care, and standards are great, but sometimes small businesses cannot enter that market because it’s such a barrier,” John Dombrowski of the Washington Pain Center told RT.

“Maybe we need six companies, maybe we need eight companies” producing insulin, Dombrowski added, “and the way that you do that is to make sure there’s less of a barrier” for new competitors.

Nicole Smith-Holt from the charity T1International, which helps people with type 1 diabetes, told RT that Big Pharma had become notorious for hiking the cost of their drugs for decades.

“There is just no reason why [the drug prices] had been increasing to the point where people are dying because they can’t afford their insulin,” she said.

Smith-Holt described how her own family “has paid the ultimate price of the pharmaceutical companies price-gouging their patients.”

In 2017, my 26-year-old son died from diabetic ketoacidosis. He was rationing [his insulin] because he couldn’t afford it. The monthly price for his insulin and diabetic supplies was $1,300.

Some 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes, over 7 million of whom rely on insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). The ADA estimates that medical expenditures for individuals with diabetes are 2.3 times higher than for those without the condition, given the costs of prescription medications and doctor visits.

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