Insulin is a lifesaving drug for millions of Americans with diabetes. But sadly, many of them can’t always afford the amount of insulin they need, according to a new study. Insulin rationing is commonplace in America. It’s also a dangerous practice. But there is help.
More than 7 million adults living in the U.S. use insulin injections to regulate their blood sugar levels. A new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine estimated that nearly 1 in 5 of those living with diabetes may have rationed insulin in the past year. Rationing insulin means they may:
- Delay getting a prescription filled
- Take less insulin than they need
Who’s Skipping Insulin Doses?
Insulin rationing was most common, the study found, among Black Americans — just over 23% — compared to about 16% for white and Hispanic Americans.
Younger adults are about twice as likely as people over age 65 to ration insulin.
And people with type 1 diabetes, the researchers found, ration insulin more commonly than those with type 2 diabetes. An autoimmune disorder, type 1 diabetes is a more serious condition than type 2 diabetes. Learn the differences between type 1 and 2 diabetes.
Why Is It Dangerous to Ration Insulin?
We turned to a UVA Health diabetes expert, endocrinologist Meaghan Stumpf, MD.
She explains: “For many people with diabetes, we can manage their condition with medications other than insulin and with lifestyle changes. But when these measures aren’t enough to lower blood sugar levels, then insulin injections become a necessity. We only prescribe insulin to our patients who need it."
She adds, “We call these diabetes patients insulin-dependent.”
Skipping or not taking enough insulin causes hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar. This can quickly dehydrate someone who is insulin-dependent. Over time, if your blood sugar is consistently too high, you could experience:
- Kidney failure
- Nerve damage
In the worst cases, skipping insulin doses can lead to an amputation, or even cause a life-threatening condition.
“If someone with type 1 diabetes skips insulin doses, they can quickly slip into a coma and die,” Stumpf explains.
Get Help Managing Your Diabetes
Find a UVA Health diabetes coach.
Need Help Affording Your Insulin?
UVA Health pharmacies offer discounted pricing on both long-acting and rapid-acting insulin, says Justin Vesser, PharmD, MS. He oversees UVA Health’s several retail pharmacies.
You can also find information on how to get help paying for your diabetes medication at insulinhelp.org. This site is run by the American Diabetes Association.