TORONTO - A self-declared "caravan" of Americans bused across the Canada-U.S. border on Saturday, seeking affordable prices for insulin and raising awareness of "the insulin price crisis" in the United States.
The group called Caravan to Canada started the journey from Minneapolis, Minn., on Friday and stopped at London, Ontario, on Saturday to purchase lifesaving type 1 diabetes medication at a pharmacy.
About 20 people made the trip, according to Nicole Smith-Holt, a member of the group. Smith-Holt said her 26-year-old son died in June 2017 because he was forced to ration costly insulin.
Caravan to Canada trekked across the border in May for the same reason, and Smith-Holt was on that trip, too. She said the previous group was smaller than this week's group. Americans have gone to countries like Mexico and Canada for more affordable medications in the past and continue to do so, she added.
'Resurgence' in visitors
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported in May that Canadian pharmacists have seen a "quiet resurgence" in Americans coming to Canada looking for cheaper pharmaceuticals.
Insulin prices in the United States nearly doubled to an average annual cost of $5,705 in 2016 from $2,864 in 2012, according to a study in January.
While not everyone purchased the same amount of insulin, Smith-Holt said most people were saving around $3,000 for three months' worth of insulin, and as a whole the group was saving around $15,000 to $20,000.
Prescriptions for insulin are not required in Canadian pharmacies Smith-Holt said, but the caravan has them so they can prove to the border patrol they are not intending to resell them when returning to the United States.
T1International, a nonprofit that advocates for increased access to type 1 diabetes medication, has described the situation in U.S. as an insulin crisis. Quinn Nystrom, a leader of T1International's Minnesota chapter, said on May via Twitter that the price of insulin in the United States per vial was $320, while in Canada the same medication under a different name was $30.
"We know that many people couldn't make this trip because they cannot afford the costs associated with traveling to another country to buy insulin there," Elizabeth Pfiester, executive director of T1International, said in a press release.
An itinerary said the caravan planned to stop at the Banting House in London later in the day. The Banting House is where Canadian physician and scientist Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin, lived from 1920 to 1921, and the building is called the "birthplace of insulin," according to the Banting House website.
Smith-Holt said the group was not currently planning any future trips, but they could be organized in the near future depending on need. She hopes for long-term solutions in the United States like price caps, anti-gouging laws, patent reform and transparency from pharmaceutical companies.