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Illegal Insulin: Desperate Diabetes Patients Turn To Black Market For Affordable Drugs

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – After years of rising insulin prices, a growing number of diabetics and their families are now facing some tough choices when it comes to paying for the drug.

Some are turning to the black market to buy illegal insulin.

"So many people are dying because they just can't afford their insulin," parent Doreen Rudolph said.

Rudolph says she's doing everything she can to make sure that doesn't happen to her 27-year-old daughter, Nicole, a Type-1 diabetic.

When her daughter was first diagnosed, Rudolph says a vial of insulin cost about $21.

"Then it went up to 31, 45, 200, and then $400 a vial," the desperate parent explained.

Even with insurance, Nicole now pays $1,300 every three months out of pocket.

"You pay or you die," Rudolph conceded.

A recent study from Yale found one in four patients are now putting themselves at risk by rationing their insulin to help off-set the cost.

CBS2 found others are turning to a growing black market where they buy the drug at a fraction of the price.

"$200 for two boxes," CBS2's John Dias said, while speaking with a black market insulin seller.

(Credit: CBS2)

Dias easily found insulin for sale online. They were posted by people like one woman from New Jersey, who told him as a diabetic herself, she has extra to sell.

"On one level, it's understandable that people would look for other ways to find less expensive insulin," Dr. Robert Gabbay with the Joslin Diabetes Center said.

He added that the practice is not only illegal, it could have fatal consequences.

"Who knows if it's insulin but even if you know it's insulin the safety margin and dosage of insulin is pretty narrow."

"It's ridiculous that it's becoming a black market item," Rudolph added. "In other countries, you can get insulin for $11 and it's the same companies that are selling it."

In an interview with CBS News last year, a spokesperson for the trade group that represents U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers said the problem is not with the rising cost of the drug so much as with patients' increasing insurance deductibles.

"It's very upsetting that our government is allowing this… Somebody should care about us, the citizens," a tearful Rudolph said.

The Justice Department is now investigating these price hikes. The ADA testified at a hearing before the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging, on May 8, 2018.

FIND OUT MORE: American Diabetes Association petitions Congress to make insulin affordable

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