Insulin misinformation highlights issues with drug's availability, price

Nov. 23—A Twitter message about free insulin caused a stir on social media recently, leading to more confusion about the key diabetes treatment following reports of shortages and high prices.

A Twitter user posing as pharmaceutical business Eli Lilly and Company made the post, which appeared to be from a verified account user but was not actually affiliated with the company. The confusion highlights the importance of getting information from a reputable source, Rogers Pharmacy licensed pharmacist Julie-Marie Nickelson said.

"The most important thing in medicine is making sure when you're getting information that there is a study or data or an announcement from an official source backing it up," she said. "Because you're going to believe the American Medical Association more than one single provider and, obviously, every provider's personal experience is extremely important. That's how we care for our patients so well but even we can be misled."

But the cost is an important factor, too, and that plays a critical role in people's perception, David Stevenson, owner of Stevenson Family Pharmacy, said.

"There's a public outcry of this insulin situation in our country," he said. "This is a life-sustaining, necessary hormone in your body. So, I mean, to be deprived of it without any options — and I'm not saying that's the case here but it's getting close to that — is not a good thing. You can't just cut people off insulin."

Following the misleading social media post, Eli Lilly's CEO admitted during a media summit hosted by health news website Stat that more work needs to be done to lower the cost of insulin medication.

Whether any change comes of it remains to be seen, but getting the wheels moving is a difficult prospect, Nickelson said.

"Mentioning one thing to pacify the large crowd but then historically doing nothing about it doesn't bode well for the future, unfortunately," she said.

Alex Simone can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @NPNOWSimone.