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High costs of insulin send some desperate Americans to Canada

Watch the full report from PBS NewsHour

An estimated 7.4 million Americans use insulin daily to manager their diabetes. They know all too well that prices for insulin nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016.

What to do? One in four people skip the drugs, or cut their doses way back.

Others turn to black-market drugs or are traveling to Canada, where insulin costs as much as 90 percent less.

Sarah Varney, senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, recently teamed with PBS NewsHour for a story on skyrocketing insulin costs and the deadly consequences for some.

Her story starts in downtown Minneapolis, where she meets Quinn Nystrom, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 13.

Varney, Nystrom and others wait for a bus to take them to Canada. They will travel 817 miles and meet other desperate family members and patients who are seeking insulin at a cost that they can afford. In addition to traveling to Canada, Nystrom accepts insulin that is given to her by good Samaritans.

“We’re forced to do this because we’re in a crisis in America,” Nystrom said.

Nystrom and the group that traveled along with her to London, Ontario, were turned away from a number of pharmacies that didn’t want the media attention. They finally found one big box retailer who would fill their prescriptions. Nystrom said she bought nine vials for significantly less than she’d pay for one vial in the U.S.

Varney also interviews Nicole Smith-Holt, whose son Alec died two years because he couldn’t afford his insulin.

Smith-Holt says she felt guilty at first, questioning whether she could have prevented her son’s death.

“It wasn’t long,” she says, “before, you know, my sadness turned into anger.”