Why I’m not sorry for sending insulin to a stranger in the US (again)

A while back I was accused of ripping off the NHS. I also got it in the neck for involving my youngest daughter in the ‘technically illegal’ act of sending insulin my doctor had advised me to stop taking to a stranger who needed it in the US.

Are we really ripping off the NHS?

There were other criticisms: because the US ‘foams at the mouth’ at the thought of social healthcare, I should have sent it somewhere more deserving, apparently. With Brexit looming, I should be stockpiling my insulin, not giving it away. Blah blah blah…

Why I’m not sorry for sending insulin to a stranger in the US (again)

I thought about all this long and hard. I love the NHS almost as much as my kids, so didn’t take the charges levelled at me lightly. Then I took the only reasonable course of action: me and my little accomplice sent another shipment of insulin to someone whose life depended on it in the US.

And I’m not sorry. Here’s what the critics have to say about this, why they’re wrong and why, if you’re a type 1 diabetic with unneeded insulin approaching its use-by date at home, you should consider sending it abroad as well…

“I have major concerns with creating a black market of insulin funded by UK taxpayers…”

There’s so much going on in the tweet below – I’ve created a black market and ripped off the NHS by not using all my insulin before switching, it won’t fix anything, etc… I’ll tackle each assertion in turn.

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This person is right about one thing. The insulin I sent to the US was funded by UK taxpayers. But any black market that exists in the States was created by the country’s broken healthcare system, which has allowed the price of insulin to triple in a decade; not actions like mine.

“Had I returned my insulin after being advised to stop taking it, it would’ve been destroyed”

Had I returned my insulin after being advised to stop taking it, it would have been destroyed. Rules state unused meds cannot be passed on. Half the world’s type 1 diabetics live without access to insulin, including growing numbers in the US because of soaring prices there. It would be a scandal to let my insulin be destroyed, when people elsewhere are dying because they can’t get hold of it.

“Some of us are looking to buy from Canada for cheaper prices…”

That’s what the recipient of the first insulin shipment had to say. I’m certain my insulin didn’t end up on the black market. See more below.

“The insulin your fellow citizens and you pay for through taxes should be used before you change prescriptions…” 

This is bullshit. I wasn’t prescribed a new kind of insulin on a whim. I was struggling to control my blood sugar on two daily shots of Levemir and Novorapid jabs every time I ate. I’d get spikes at meal times followed by rebound lows. On long run days, only being able to adjust my Levemir twice a day meant choosing between massive highs before I started running or constant hypos as I ran.

“Telling a type 1 to use up old insulin before switching meds is like denying an HIV sufferer more effective retrovirals because they haven’t used all their old ones…”

My new insulin regime – Fiasp delivered through the Omnipod pump system – has changed my life. It’s probably prolonging it too. High blood sugar levels can cause nerve and kidney damage, heart disease, blindness and early death. Low blood sugar levels can kill. I’ve had fewer of both on the new regime. Telling a type 1 to use up old insulin before switching meds is like denying an HIV sufferer more effective retrovirals because they haven’t used all their old ones.

“Price gouging in the US is disgusting but ripping of your own country’s system won’t fix it”

We agree on one thing: what’s gone on in the US is disgusting. That’s why I ran the MdS for the charity T1International in April (why not donate here?). But I am not ripping off the NHS. In fact, I’m saving it money. Had I returned my unused insulin, as rules say I should, the NHS would have had to pay to dispose of it. So I sent it to someone who was being failed by their government. That seems the only reasonable course of action to me.

“There are legitimate organisations who do collect insulin and supplies for people who can’t afford it…”

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This is correct. I would have preferred to have donated my meds to Insulin For Life or one of the other charities that allows insulin that’s not needed in developed countries to be distributed to people in need elsewhere. As I wrote in my original post, I contacted Insulin For Life but to no avail. It’s also worth noting that these charities will not accept insulin which is within six months of its use-by date. Mine was.

“It’s one thing to help the third world and another to provide aid to a country that foams at the mouth at the thought of socialised healthcare…”

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This is where things get dark. The same person who says I’m creating a black market in the US and ripping off the NHS now suggests Americans deserve insulin less than people in the ‘third world’ because the crackpots in the White House oppose social healthcare. I’m not normally one for discussing politics on Twitter (apparently it’s full of bigots who feel empowered online because no one in the real world will give them the time of day), but I couldn’t resist. See below.

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Figurative language! That’s okay then. Let’s be clear: none of us can live without insulin. It plays a crucial role in helping the body convert food into energy. Without it, our cells cannot absorb glucose in our blood. It fills with glucose and substances known as ketones as our bodies go into starvation mode and burn fat as an alternative source of energy. This turns our blood acidic. Our organs fail. We die. Where we live doesn’t come into it.

“It’s a weird time to do that, especially with all the Brexit stuff looming…”

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Brexit scares the shit out of me. And not just because of the warnings Brexit will cause chaos at the ports and lead to shortages of lifesaving medications such as insulin (I usually have a few months’ supply in my fridge, anyhow). What really scares me is that the mean spirit of Brexit is spreading; that it’s being used as an excuse to leave people in need. At times like this we need more compassion, not less.

That’s why, if you’re a type 1 diabetic with unneeded insulin approaching its use-by date at home, you should consider sending it abroad as well. Let me know if I can help. 

  One thought on “Why I’m not sorry for sending insulin to a stranger in the US (again)

  1. Ian
    August 30, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    What has this country come to? Sometimes you just have to do the right thing – so good on you Rob!

    Like

  2. September 1, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you! I am type 1 diabetic & a mother of a type 1 diabetic living in Utah USA. We are struggling daily! We are fighting daily for affordable & available insulin & supply’s. Theres been 6 deaths due to rationing since June of this year that I know of. Thank you for being a voice for us all! #insulin4all Thank you for helping save there lives. Thank you for spreading awareness #type1awareness about the crisis #t1international Jennifer Draney 💙#allmyblueheartsare4type1 💙

    Like

    • September 24, 2019 at 3:53 pm

      Hi Jennifer, so sorry for the delay getting back to you. This is driven by greed, pure and simple. So sad. Keep on keeping on.

      Like

  3. Mary
    September 3, 2019 at 1:11 am

    Hey man, I think what you’re doing is amazing. How did you pick a person to donate to? And how did you ship it?
    I’m from the USA and yeah insulin here is stupid expensive but I luckily have good insurance. I usually wind up with a couple of extra vials and have been thinking about donating but struggling to find how.

    Like

    • September 24, 2019 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Mary, I posted on a closed Facebook group to see if anyone wanted what I had going spare. I wrapped it up in bubble wrap and sent it airmail. On the advice of my post office I declared that it was insulin and it got through, despite it being ‘technically illegal’ to post it. I’ve sent insulin twice. Both times it’s got through uncompromised.

      Like

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