Are All Insulin Pens Created Equal?

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6. Manufacturers

The most popular insulin pens are designed and manufactured by the top three insulin suppliers – Denmark-based Novo Nordisk, Sanofi of France, and Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly. Together, these three companies had more than $29 billion in global revenue from diabetes treatments in 2018, according to pharmaceutical industry organization IgeaHub, more than half of the total revenue of the top 10 companies. The large influence these three companies have on the marketplace has led to criticisms about the recent steep increases in insulin prices, which jumped 300% from 2002 to 2013, according to a congressional report released late last year.

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7. Pen Alternatives

Insulin pens are a more convenient way to inject insulin, but they are also more expensive than the traditional vial-and-syringe system, which therefore remains the most common way to inject insulin. The traditional system costs less but the injections can be more painful, more complicated to administer, and require users to carry around vials and syringes. Computerized insulin pumps, which are automated devices connected to infusion sets attached to the body, are becoming more common, but they cost thousands of dollars. Pumps may require special and costly in-patient training and are either not covered by insurance or covered under strict bureaucratic guidelines.

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8. Pricing

Insulin pens cost more than vials and syringes. Syringes cost between $15 and $20 for a box of 100, depending on the vendor. The cost of vials of insulin vary but typically run between $200 to $300 for a month’s supply. Generic versions of insulin can cost considerably less, so shopping around and doing some research could save money. But consult with your doctor and provide the details to ensure you are getting the right insulin. Contrast that with insulin pens, which can cost hundreds of dollars per pack. A pack of five pens can cost around $500. Assuming an adult weighing 80 kilograms (176 pounds) requires a small amount of 0.3 units per kilogram, or 24 units per day, that pack would last about two months.

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9. Reusability

Because their selling point is convenience and ease of use, many popular insulin pens come preloaded with insulin and are thrown away after they are depleted. (The separate single-use needles used on these pens should be treated as medical waste and disposed of accordingly.) But there are also insulin pen models on the market that allow users to use insulin-loaded cartridges.

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10. Types of insulin

Diabetes treatment is complicated by the fact that it depends on an individual’s metabolism and diet, level of insulin resistance, and the amount of time a patient has had the disease. This affects dosage sizes and the frequency of insulin injections. On top of that, there are five different kinds of insulin: rapid-acting, taken before or after meals; short-acting, taken about 30 minutes before a meal; intermediate-acting, which controls sugar levels for about 12 hours at a time; long-acting, which can last for 20 hours to 26 hours; and pre-mixed, a combination of intermediate- and short-acting insulin, typically taken twice a day 10 minutes to 30 minutes before eating and lasts 10 hours to 16 hours.