Drug manufacturer Eli Lilly says two of its diabetes drugs are in short supply – as millions of patients face weeks of chaos

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  • Shortages will affect non-pen injectable insulins through early weeks of April
  • Over six million Americans rely on specific type of insulin currently in shortage
  • READ MORE:  Americans turn to black market for insulin amid high prices

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly announced a temporary shortage of two types of insulin, a medicine taken by more than six million Americans.

Patients will have a harder time getting their Humalog and Insulin Lispro Injections at wholesalers and pharmacies through the beginning of next month, the company said.

In the meantime, patients should discuss switching to a different insulin treatment, which is easier said than done, given the various hoops insurance companies may make patients jump through to get them.

The company added that it continues to manufacture the products and will ship them out ‘as soon as we can’ without offering an explanation for what caused the holdup.

Diabetes medication shortages are nothing new. The most recent example concerns NovoNordisk’s drug Ozempic, originally designed to help the pancreas make more insulin but gained meteoric popularity for its staggering weight loss benefits.

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Most wholesalers and pharmacies will have slim supplies for a couple of weeks at least, imperiling the lives of millions. According to data analytics firm IQVIA, over six million units of insulin lispro injection, the type affected by the recall, were sold over the past three months.

Lilly said: ‘We recognize that any supply challenge may cause a disruption in people’s treatment regimens, and we are moving with urgency to address it. Anyone experiencing difficulty in getting their prescription filled should contact their healthcare provider to discuss switching to the same insulin in a prefilled pen or other insulin treatment options.’ 

But insurance plans might not cover certain types of insulin, including the pens, which could cost around $140 per pen.  

Diabetics need insulin to live, and many will die without it. Without hours, the body makes an overload of ketones by breaking down fat for fuel. They can build up in the body to dangerous levels leading to diabetic ketoacidosis, which can lead to coma or even death.

The US is in the midst of an obesity epidemic that is driving up rates of type 2 diabetes. Over 38 million Americans have diabetes – that’s nearly 12 percent of the population. 

That’s up from about 22.3 million in 2014, and is expected to balloon to at least 60.6 million in 2060.

Around eight million Americans rely on insulin to treat the condition and avoid complications ranging from renal failure to heart disease.

And with an ever-widening population, more and more Americans will require insulin to manage new cases of the condition.

Approximately 79 million Americans will need insulin by 2030 but only half of them will have ready access to the treatment, according to a modeling study published in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

The shortage that Lilly is currently experiencing may be affecting millions, as it is one of three leading insulin manufacturers in the country, alongside NovoNordisk and Sanofi. 

The three companies account for 90 percent of the global insulin market and nearly 100 percent of the insulin supply in the US.

Eli Lilly has not said why it is seeing this shortage

The shortage will only affect vials of insulin, not the pens, which doctors hope will help alleviate some of the panic people may be experiencing.

Dr David Ahn, a California-based diabetes specialist, said: ‘A lot of posts forget to include this fact, and I worry that unnecessary panic might actually worsen the situation. Remember the great toilet paper rush of 2020?’

Shortages of supplies are far from the only problem diabetics have faced in recent year. Prices of insulin have continued to climb, even though it is cheap to make – around $4. But when adjusted for inflation, Eli Lilly’s list price for Humalog increased by about 680 percent, to $275 per vial in 2018, since it first began selling in the US in 1996.

However, manufacturers capped the price of several types at $35 per month, a saving grace for millions of people. Over one million Americans have said they ration their insulin supplies to save money.

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