Craigslist … Insulin?

A recent news item about a study conducted by ChristianaCare and Jefferson College of Population Health researchers found that insulin is routinely sold on Craigslist, a site more typically used for the sale of things like apartments, secondhand furniture and used bicycles.

I don’t disagree with the point of the article, which focused on the unconscionable prices for which insulin is sold — the writers cited $400 per vial if bought without insurance.

I’d instead like to compound the outrage we all ought to be feeling.

You see, the article also pointed out that insulin must be kept within a specific temperature range in order to retain its effectiveness, or else the diabetic or his family has just bought a tiny $400 vial of something that’s no more effective than water.

Now, here’s the outrage: Not all insulin that is sold even by legitimate sources is, apparently, kept correctly. Some of this insulin is indeed no more effective than water.

How do I know?

My father has been disappointed and frightened this way many times. He has been a Type I diabetic since 1973. Yet in recent years, several times, the insulin that he brought home legitimately from our city hospital has proven ineffective, and several times my father’s blood glucose has reached hospitalization-worthy levels.

Want to hear something else? According to the article, it’s not necessarily pharmacies or doctors who are selling this Craigslist insulin. It’s diabetics. People who know that they need this medication too are selling what they can of it to pay for — what else? — medical expenses.

So this is the situation we’re in. People, old and young, in desperate need of lifesaving medication are facing the impossible choice of either buying drugs off the internet from other people who also need the lifesaving medication or spending exorbitant amounts of money that they often do not have to buy it from a legitimate source, and in neither case are they guaranteed that the lifesaving medication is going to work. And all because of horrendous, inexcusable markups by the companies that create and sell the lifesaving medication. What kind of insanity is this?

What is it about chronic illness that makes pharmaceutical companies so eager to exploit it? Is it greed? Sadism? Do they enjoy squeezing people who have no choice, who will quickly die without their product, for every cent they have? Do they enjoy driving these people and their families to worry and grief?

There is nothing wrong with business. But there is something very, very wrong with preying on the vulnerable.

What’s the solution? Maybe there should be government caps on the prices consumers pay for medicine. Maybe there should be government subsidies for its development. Maybe both.

I don’t know. I’m not normally one to invite the government to sleep over. But in this case – in the case of protecting people against predators – I think I’ll change the sheets in the guest room.

Ayala Weiss