When you hear about the rising cost of insulin, you likely think of dollars and cents. Prices going up, up, up like the numbers on a gas pump filling an SUV. But for some parents, rising insulin prices cost them more than dollars; it cost them their children.
Two parents led a protest toward Sanofi, one of three major insulin producers in the United States, in an attempt to present the drugmaker with the ashes of their children—all the parents had left of them after their adult children tried to ration their insulin supply to save money.
Protests over the insulin oligarchy—three pharmaceutical companies that control nearly the entire insulin market—aren’t anything new. Insulin has been around for nearly 100 years, and yet people with insulin-dependent diabetes struggle to afford their life-saving medication. Families without insurance, or not enough insurance, have to make difficult decisions between buying groceries or filling their insulin prescription.
That might sound extreme, but insulin prices have more than tripled since 2002, and while lawsuits have been filed against drug companies accusing them of fraudulently raising list prices, changes aren’t coming fast enough for those struggling to pay the price of staying alive.
Rationing happens when prices are so high that someone tries to survive on less insulin than they really need, putting them at risk for life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis. It’s a dangerous game, and some have lost.
On November 16, 2018, a group of protesters marched toward Sanofi accusing the company’s high prices for causing insulin-rationing deaths.
They held signs. They chanted slogans. And two mothers carried the ashes of their children.
Mothers Antoinette Worsham and Nicole Smith-Holt were joined by about 75 other protestors as they marked toward Sanofi in an attempt to present their children’s ashes to the pharmaceutical company. Worsham lost her daughter, 22-year-old Antavia Worsham, when she tried rationing her insulin. Nicole Smith-Holt lost her son Alec Holt just after his 26th birthday, when he aged out of his parents’ insurance plan and couldn’t afford his insulin.
Protestors were not allowed on Sanofi’s property, and Sanofi employees were sent home for the day so they would not witness the protest.
James Holt, Alec Holt’s father, was angry. “They helped kill my son and they don’t want to take his ashes?” he told reporter Marilyn Schairer.
A spokesperson from Sanofi told WBZ: “We take this issue seriously and continue to explore innovative ways to find solutions to help eliminate or significantly reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for patients.”
For parents like Nicole an Antoinnette, it’s too late for innovative. All they have left of their children are ashes.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.