U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders travelled to Windsor, Ont. this Sunday with a group of Americans to obtain cheaper, affordable insulin, slamming the “greed” of American pharmaceutical companies.
Outside of a Canadian pharmacy, he held up a tiny bottle.
“Here’s the bottom line: this is a vial of insulin,” he said. “In the United States, depending on where you live, it’ll cost 350 to 400 bucks. Here in Canada, it will cost 35 or 40 bucks. One tenth the price, made by exactly the same manufacturer.”
The Vermont junior senator had tweeted earlier that the high cost for insulin in the U.S. has put the lives of American diabetics at risk. On Instagram, Sanders shared a photo describing how the group was going to purchase vials at a fraction of the price as those available in the U.S.
“We are going to end pharma’s greed,” he pledged, adding he had boarded the bus from Detroit. He first announced he was joining the group earlier this month.
He waved to crowds as he entered the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy.
Diabetes advocate Quinn Nystrom, who has made several of these trips before, told media inside the pharmacy that diabetics are dying because of the higher prices. Many choose to ration their insulin, which can be dangerous.
“We had a young gentleman who was 21 years old, worked two jobs, in Minnesota, named Jesse – he was found dead in his apartment, you know, at the end of June,” Nystrom said. “For what reason? Because of price-gouging and corruption.”
Sanders stood next to a mother who said she spends roughly US$1,500 a month for insulin for her son. But in Windsor, she paid US$1,000 for a six-month supply.
Why is the same medicine so much more expensive in the U.S.?
“Over the last 20 years, (the) pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign contributions,” Sanders said. “They buy and sell politicians. Republicans and Democrats. In the last 20 years they have spent billions of dollars on lobbying Congress to make sure that they can continue to charge the American people any price they want.”
The American insulin market is controlled largely by three major manufacturers, Sanders said, “and just coincidentally, it seems that they raise their prices at about the same rate at the same time.”
An American Diabetes Association spokesperson previously told CTVNews.ca the average price of insulin has nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013.
Sanders has long targeted pharmaceutical companies and skyrocketing prescription drug prices in the U.S. On his Twitter account, the Sanders campaign shared news footage of a similar medication trip he took to Canada in 1999.
He pointed out on this trip that insulin is not the only medicine that is subjected to price-fixing in the U.S., and that the pharmaceutical industry does this for other prescription drugs.
A larger group of about 45 people made the second trip to London, Ont. and visited Banting House where Sir Frederick Banting came up with the idea that led to the discovery of insulin 99 years ago.
Although insulin tourism is still relatively small, some in Canada have worried that larger-scale trips like this could threaten the short-term supply at Canadian pharmacies.
A recent letter from 15 groups representing patients, health professionals, hospitals, and pharmacists urged the federal government to safeguard the Canadian drug supply.
"The Canadian medicine supply is not sufficient to support both Canadian and U.S. consumers," the letter states. "The supply simply does not, and will not, exist within Canada to meet such demands.”
Nystrom has acknowledged in the past that the trips are not a long-term solution but are more about drawing attention to the unaffordable prices of drugs that she and others need to live.
“At the end of the day, it is an embarrassment for those of us who are Americans,” Sanders said.
“We love our Canadian neighbours, and we thank them so much. But we should not have to come to Canada to get the medicine we need for our kids to stay alive.”
With a file from The Canadian Press
.@QuinnNystrom buys a vial of insulin that will last her 1-2 weeks. It retails on average for $340 in the U.S. In Canada it sells for $26-$30. Nystrom organized a similar caravan across the border to buy insulin earlier this month. pic.twitter.com/RDbap71KoN— Amy B Wang (@amybwang) July 28, 2019
The inventors of insulin sold the patent for just $1 so it would be available to all.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 27, 2019
97 years later, Americans are dying because drugmakers like Eli Lilly charge $300 for a vial of insulin. Tomorrow I will be joining diabetics to buy insulin in Canada for one-tenth the price. pic.twitter.com/QbvLnr91Wt
Traveling to today w/ @SenSanders and a group of ppl w/ type 1 diabetes who desperately need affordable insulin. For the Sen. to come w/ us is huge, bc it will raise the profile of this crisis worldwide, and that’s what it desperately needs.Follow along! #insulin4all pic.twitter.com/mSG19FLnTv— Quinn Nystrom (@QuinnNystrom) July 28, 2019