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How Brexit Could Mean 7 Days Between Life and Death With Type 1 Diabetes

Every single person on the planet needs insulin to stay alive. Most people don’t have to give this a single thought, but if you’re like me and have type 1 diabetes, we have to think about insulin every time we move, eat, don’t eat, stop moving, feel stress, get a headache, leave the house, wake up or go to sleep. Our insulin-producing cells in our pancreas have died, for reasons still undetermined. (I can tell you though, that getting type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with weight, lifestyle or eating sugar.) So, insulin from external sources via injections or an insulin pump is crucial for survival.

Poor insulin management–whether from lack of attention, poor understanding of the body’s mechanisms or circumstances out of our control such as stress, menstrual cycles, viruses and even weather changes–can have huge consequences. Heart, kidney and eye disease are often spoken about, but did you know diabetic nerve damage can wreak havoc with one’s gastrointestinal system, bladder, lungs and cause intense pain issues  throughout the body? Their insidious nature may make them more cryptic, but no less a threat. As people with type 1 diabetes, we live with this reality day in and day out.

Here’s another reality: without insulin altogether, I would die in less than seven days.

Less than seven days.

Which brings me to Brexit.

November 1 is fast approaching, and with that comes the possibility of food and medication shortages. Not typically an alarmist (I’ve not been stockpiling food and supplies), but I have recently been speaking with some highly intelligent and politically in-the-know friends who believe there is definitely cause for concern in the food and medication department. The “official” story keeps changing, but shortages are a real possibility.

As I sat in my doctor’s office last week, I couldn’t help myself.

“Should I be worried about not being able to get insulin after Brexit?”

She lifted her eyes from her computer screen and her lips went a bit sideways as her teeth grabbed her cheek. “They assure us it shouldn’t be a problem. But it might be a good time to move back to Canada if…” That sentence hung in the air unfinished.

Of all the reasons to move back to Canada during the six years we’ve lived here in the U.K. (on a work visa), the threat of death due to an insulin shortage was never on my radar. Missing out on family Christmases; new babies being born into the family; sick, elderly parents; and a nephew with cancer all sat at the top of the list of reasons to move back. But no access to insulin? Where did that come from?!

In recent months, I’ve been raising awareness of the crisis of exorbitant insulin prices in the U.S., thanks to pharmaceutical companies making ridiculous price increases. On average, the cost per vial in 2009 was $93 which now in 2019 costs approximately $300, according to BBC Online and Business Insider. The Endocrine Society reports that, according to 2018 stats obtained from GoodRx.com, a website that aggregates claims data to estimate the average list price of medications, “From 2001-2015, the price of Humalog increased 585 percent for a vial of insulin.”

Some patients have had to resort to rationing, resulting in death. This issue is a real and present danger. When hitting the “share” button on articles written about this devastating issue, I had no idea I could be in my own possible insulin crisis over here.

Science proves that stress affects our health negatively. I can personally attest to just how true this is when it comes to type 1 diabetes. Our blood sugar often rises when our bodies and mind are under duress. Spiking blood sugars cause the need for more insulin which can cause a low blood
sugar, which then calls for carbohydrates (sugar) which might mean a need for more insulin. Each time I dial up my insulin pump for a bolus, I can’t help but visualize a vial from my stash in the butter compartment of my fridge door disappearing. Anyone else hear the song, “Final Countdown” by Europe (oh the irony) right now? So yeah. I’m in a Brexit-stress-insulin shortage infinity circle at the moment.

Obviously, I am not the only person with type 1 diabetes in the U.K. and therefore not the only one with this concern. And obviously we are not the only ones reliant on medication. November 1 has the potential to mess with many, many lives.

It’s also obvious at this point, the political “bubble and squeak” we’ve been slow-cooking in for the last three years is so blistered and charred beyond recognition–so stuck, where the answers can be found to clean up this dish of distress, I have no idea. For me, the lesson in this is to never again take access to insulin for granted. And I’m reminded to be thankful to the healthcare systems of both Canada and the U.K. who have helped sustain my life and those of many others thus far.

But even the best life lesson doesn’t solve the all-too-scary medical minefield we might be about to step into.

Less than seven days.

Dear Government,

It “shouldn’t” be a problem? Please don’t let it be a problem.

Our lives depend on it.

 

 

Getty image via Artfoliophoto.

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