health / Living with diabetes / Medical Info

What do you do if you run out of insulin?

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The predicament of having difficulty getting insulin if it runs out for any reason, shouldn’t be a disaster in the UK. We have the NHS and you can go to your regular Pharmacist, ANY Pharmacist, your own GP, ANY GP or ANY Accident and Emergency Department and get a prescription free of charge.  
This is NOT the situation in the USA and here is a “Disasters Averted” story published o  16 August 20016 which discusses the situation and possible options you can take if you live there or ever face problems in the country in which you live.
As always with diabetes it helps to know about your possible options before the worst happens. When travelling always carry double what you think you will need. Insulin MUST be taken on carry on luggage so it doesn’t freeze in the hold of a plane. Also split your medications and gear with a pal so that if one of you is robbed you have spares.
 
 Out  of Insulin, Too Early to Renew — What To Do?

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It is not unusual for people to have difficulty keeping insulin from freezing or getting overheated. A patient, with type 1 diabetes for 17 years, had glucose that did not respond to his rapid-acting insulin as it usually does. He had two new vials in the refrigerator. He took a new vial out of his refrigerator earlier in the day, and started using it a few hours after he took it out. Had high post prandials that did not respond as usual to correcting. He had enough experience to wonder if perhaps something was wrong with his new insulin, so he thought he’d try another vial. He saw it was frozen. He had put the two vials at the back, where for many refrigerators it is colder. He thought back and wondered if the first vial looked any different, but remembered, he did not look closely at it.

He then went to get a new prescription filled at his pharmacy, but was told insurance would not cover it at this date; it was too early. It was cost prohibitive for him to pay out of pocket ~$300.00/vial. He contacted a diabetes health care provider (hcp) who offered him two sample vials to cover him until his prescription would once again be covered. He corrected and his glucose lowered. Disaster averted!

Not everyone has the luxury of having a hcp who has samples available in such a timely manner. If their hcp even had them, what if it were a weekend, or another time that the hcp did not have access to the samples? I reached out to certified diabetes educator, Laurie Klipfel, RN, MSN, BC-ANP, CDE, to see if she could offer any pearls of wisdom:

“This was a recent discussion on an AADE list serve with many good suggestions. The best suggestion was asking the healthcare provider if samples were available.  My next option would be to see if the insurance would make an exception under the circumstances (but this may take time). Someone with type 1 needs their insulin and cannot wait a day or two. The next option is to see if a diabetes educator could contact a rep for samples (their prescribing healthcare provider would also need to be involved). My next option would be to see if there were coupons available online from websites like: www.rxpharmacycoupons.com, or other websites. As a last resort (but may be the fastest option in a pinch), if a patient was not able to afford the analog insulins such as Novolog, Humalog, or Apidra, I might suggest discussing with the healthcare provider if using regular insulin instead would be an option. Though the analogs match insulin need to insulin much better than regular insulin, taking regular insulin (especially when using a generic brand such as Walmart’s ReliOn brand) can be a much cheaper option and would be much better than not taking any meal dose insulin at all.  It would be beneficial to explain the differences in action times and suggest taking regular insulin 15-30 min. before the meal and beware of potential hypoglycemia 3-5 hours after injection due to longer action of regular. Of note, you do not need a prescription for regular, NPH or 70/30 insulin.

“I would also agree with suggestions made on the list serve for keeping the insulin in the door of the refrigerator and using a thermometer in the refrigerator. If the temperature in the refrigerator is not stable, it may be helpful to have the thermostat of the refrigerator checked.“

Lessons Learned:

 

    • People who have diabetes, especially type 1 diabetes, need to have and take insulin that is effective.
    • If you have type 1 diabetes, you are in danger of DKA. Know what it is, how to prevent, recognize, and get help for DKA.
    • A back-up plan for insulin gone bad or not available.
    • To double check insulin when taken out of the refrigerator for the “feel of the temperature” of the insulin. Do not use if hot, warm, or frozen.
    • To know what their insulin should look like, clear or cloudy. Avoid it if crystals, clumps or anything unusual is noted.
    • The onset, peak, and length of action of insulins they are taking, as well as replacements if needed.
    • If insulin is not available and can’t get insulin within hours, to visit the nearest ED or urgent care center.

3 thoughts on “What do you do if you run out of insulin?

  1. In the US we horde supplies including insulin for a reason. I could almost go into a 9- day bomb shelter and not miss too much of a beat. The only issue is I have built on a new room in the house to store my Diacrap

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  2. I read an absolute horror story once about a Type 1 who dropped his last vial of insulin just prior to a bank holiday weekend. He thought he could get a replacement from A&E but they insisted that he would need to be examined first. They kept him there so long he went massively hyper. They ignored his dosage instruction completely and shot him up with so much insulin he promptly went massively hypo. Then they admitted him and put him on a glucose drip and a Sliding Scale. Then they wouldn’t let him out until he had been seen by an Endo who roundly berated him for his failure to control his diabetes. You just couldn’t make this up.

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  3. There are still a lot of serious accidents including death for diabetics in hospital. Ideally you need a relative or friend with you at all times that knows what to do should you become incapacitated.

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