Josh Wilkerson died after taking $25 over-the-counter insulin to cut costs

A 27-year-old man with diabetes died after taking a cheaper insulin instead of the $1,200 prescription brand a doctor recommended for his Type 1 diabetes.

Josh Wilkerson, who earned $16.50 an hour working as a dog kennel supervisor, had recently aged out of his stepfather’s private health insurance plan and had opted for a cheaper, over-the-counter $25 insulin over the pricey alternative, his mother, Erin Waver, told The Washington Post.

In June, he fell into a vegetative state after having multiple mini strokes. He died five days later.

Over-the-counter insulin known as ReliOn, takes more time to become effective than the prescribed “analogue” insulin. Analogue insulin is genetically altered to create more rapid-acting and uniform-acting insulin. It starts acting around 20 minutes after injecting and lasts four hours. Human insulin (or synthetic insulin) mimics insulin in humans, and starts working about half an hour to four hours after injection.

“Todd Hobbs, chief medical officer for Novo Nordisk in North America, said human insulin works just as well as analogue insulin if taken far enough in advance of meals,” The Post reported; Novo Nordisk works with Walmart to sell ReliOn.

There are about 29 million Americans known to have one of the two types of diabetes. The kind Wilkerson had, Type 1, is an autoimmune disease. His body mistakenly kills the cells supposed to make his body’s insulin, a hormone that helps people absorb and process the sugar in food. The 1.25 million people in the US who have Type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin to live. The majority of Americans who have diabetes have Type 2, in which the body develops a resistance to the insulin the body makes. Often, treatment of Type 2 involves injecting insulin to make up for that.

Wilkerson’s family is now speaking out about diabetes and the high costs of insulin.

“How many more young Type 1 diabetes patients have to die before something finally changes?” his fiancee, Rose Walter, who also has Type 1 diabetes, told The Post.

Read more: 7 signs you have high blood sugar even if you don’t have diabetes

The couple paid $1,000 on rent each month, and struggled to pay their every day bills and save for their wedding, on top of their health coverage, Wilkerson’s mother said in a blog post.

“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,” Walters told The Post about her and Wilkerson’s decision to opt for less expensive insulin, noting that she was worried about how long it might take to kick in. They started taking the $25 insulin in the winter of 2018.

Weaver has become an advocate for people with Type 1 diabetes since her son’s death.

“It’s pretty much a death sentence,” Weaver said of people who have to ration insulin, or rely on cheaper over-the-counter options. “They have no health insurance or good jobs to afford what they need, so they’re left with the pittance that is left.”

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