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What Happened When I Decided to Buy Insulin While on Vacation in Tahiti

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Some of you may have noticed my absence over the last week. I have been in Tahiti!

My family and I flew into Papaetee and took a small cruise around the islands. We started at Tahiti Iti then traveled to Huahine, Taha’a, Bora Bora, and Moorea. We had so many wonderful experiences including swimming with sharks and rays (yikes), jet skiing around Huahine, and even watching Kelly Slater surf Teahupo’o from the infamous channel. Yes, Kelly Slater… it was a dream come true for a Kauai girl like me.

man surfing
Kelly Slater surfing
woman snorkeling with sting ray
Nalani swimming with rays

One of my favorite experiences was in Huahine when we happened upon a local pharmacy. Given the current insulin crisis in the United States, I was curious about French Polynesia’s insulin prices. I entered the pharmacy and though there was a significant language barrier, the pharmacist was incredibly kind and helpful. We had to communicate through writing, but he understood the word insulin immediately and brought me a bunch of options. They had multiple long-acting insulins as well as some mixed insulin and Apidra (their only rapid-acting). I showed the pharmacist my insulin pump and he informed me that they do not have those on island. All the patients on Huahine use insulin pens. I asked him if I could buy a box of Apidra (five pens, 300 mL each). He sold it to me for 5,000 francs, or about $50; cash. No prescription needed. In the U.S., this same box of Apidra would cost me about $500.

woman standing in front of tahiti building
Nalani at the pharmacy
man and woman holding box of insulin in pharmacy
Nalani and the pharmacist

When will the U.S. healthcare system realize that insulin is not a luxury drug, but the difference between life and death? Thanks to “The Big Three,” the cost of insulin has risen 1,200% since 1990, while the manufacturing cost remains between $3 to $7 per vial (according to T1 International). It all makes me sick. I deal with it every day with myself and with my patients. Nothing pisses me off more than having to change my care plan for a patient because of cost.

I’m so proud to be part of the type 1 community advocating for change. Type 1’s should not have to choose between buying insulin and paying rent. I encourage all of you to keep speaking out and writing letters. We will have our voices heard!

Originally published: September 19, 2019
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