A young diabetic man in the US has died after financial constraints forced him to switch to a cheaper, over-the-counter version of insulin.
Josh Wilkerson, from Virginia, was found in a diabetic coma in the sleeping quarters of the kennel where he worked. His blood sugar levels were found to be 17 times higher than a healthy level and he had suffered a series of strokes.
Tragically, Josh had fallen into a vegetative state and was removed from a ventilator in hospital five days afterwards. He was just 27 years old.
Josh had aged out of his stepfather’s health insurance plan by his 26th birthday, and – like so many young diabetic Americans – had been unable to afford the skyrocketing costs of the prescription brand he required.
Without health insurance, Josh switched to over-the-counter insulin, a lower-grade medication which sells for $25 (£21) per vial at Walmart.
As reported by The Washington Post, this was one-tenth of the cost of the more effective medication, which is said to have tripled in price since 2002.
Josh only had a very limited form of health insurance at the dog kennel where he was employed as a supervisor. He earned just $16.50 (£13.60) per hour, not nearly enough to cover the monthly cost of insulin at almost $1,200 (£987).
In December 2018, Josh and his fiancée, Rose Walters – who also has type 1 diabetes – decided to begin taking a slower-acting $25 insulin called ReliOn.
ReliOn is known as ‘human insulin’, a type which predates the genetically altered ‘analogue’ insulin routinely prescribed by doctors. Human insulin can take up to four hours to be effective, with varying success. Analogue insulin is more effective, and takes just 20 minutes to regulate blood sugar.
ReliOn is sold by Walmart, in partnership with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. The supermarket chain has reportedly decided against disclosing figures for insulin sales.
According to The Washington Post, Rose, 27, said:
We figured: Hey, it’s $25. We can do that. And we’ll just work with it and try to do the best we can,
But, the fact that it takes so long to kick in? It scared me a little bit.
Rose was the one who found Josh unconscious at the dog kennels after realising she hadn’t been able to contact him for twelve hours. The couple had hoped the money they would save through using cheaper insulin would help towards paying for their dream rustic barn wedding ceremony.
UNILAD spoke with Elizabeth Pfiester, Founder and Executive Director at on pharmaceutical funded patient-led advocacy group T1International.
T1International has fought for affordable insulin and supplies since 2014, tackling the disturbing health inequalities which divide the wealthy from the poor.
Pfiester told UNILAD:
We initiated the #insulin4all campaign and have demonstrated outside of Eli Lilly several times to demand transparency and an end to price-gouging.
Horrifically, Josh’s death is not uncommon and our In Memory page shows the growing number of confirmed deaths from insulin rationing.
We will continue to demand that the insulin manufacturers are held accountable for pricing people out of life, and we are holding a vigil to honor lives lost due to the high cost of insulin on September 14th outside of Eli Lilly in Indianapolis.
Josh’s mother and others who have lost family members because of pharmaceutical greed will be there to speak and remember their loved ones, as well as demand change so this never happens again.
I am so lucky that not only does my family have good insurance, but that I am able to stay on it until I’m 26. However, there is absolutely NO REASON insulin should cost $2,200. This is why we NEED #Insulin4all pic.twitter.com/I2UlOzXcNU
— Katy McGregor (@katynkm) July 28, 2019
We had the warmest 🇨🇦 welcome at Old Walkerville Pharmacy! This doll came with her family and has lives with type 1 diabetes. She drew her insulin pod on the sign. #insulinsavesmylife 💙#CaravanToCanada #insulin4all pic.twitter.com/gVxeNxmHco
— Quinn Nystrom (@QuinnNystrom) July 28, 2019
Josh’s mum Erin Weaver is now calling upon elected officials and drug companies to change what she regards to be a two-tier health system, whereby only diabetics with adequate health insurance or enough money are receiving the treatment they need.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.