(RNN) – A group of parents brought the ashes of their dead children to a pharmaceutical company in Massachusetts on Friday to protest the cost of insulin.
They said the company, Sanofi, helped cause the deaths of their diabetic children, who had to ration their insulin when they couldn’t afford to pay as much as $1,000 a month for the vital hormone.
People with Type 1 diabetes don’t produce it naturally in their body, and need it from drug companies to regulate their blood sugar levels. Without it, they can die within days.
One of the mothers, Nicole Smith-Holt, of Minnesota, told WBZ in Boston that her 26-year-old son, Alec Raeshawn Smith, died within a month of losing health insurance last year, and with it, the ability to afford his insulin.
She told The Boston Globe she was there to let Sanofi “know the price of their product is killing people when it’s intended to save their lives.”
Another mother, Antoinenette Worsham, of Cincinnati, told WBZ, “It’s either pay your rent, pay your car payment or get your medication.”
Her child, 22-year-old Antavia Worsham, also died last year after having to ration her insulin.
According to the CDC, diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. as of 2015, and average annual medical expenses for diabetics can be twice as high as for non-diabetics.
A group helping to organize the protest, Right Care Alliance, tweeted that Sanofi employees were sent home so they wouldn’t see the protest.
A Sanofi spokesman told The Globe that security prevented the protest from entering the company building.
“We want to ensure everything works as well as possible for employees and the protesters. We don’t want any accidents or any situation,” the spokesman, Nicolas Kressmann, said.
Smith’s father, James Holt, called them “cowards.”
“They helped kill my son and they don’t want to take his ashes? Are you serious?” he said. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Sanofi is one of three companies, along with Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, that were the subject of a lawsuit last year that said they were acting to inflate the price of insulin.
In October, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson also filed suit against the trio, alleging in a release that they “deceptively raised the list prices of insulin, making it less affordable to patients in high deductible plans, the uninsured, and senior citizens on Medicare.”
Swanson’s office said the price of some insulin products has doubled since 2011 and tripled since 2002. It noted that a 100 units/ml vial of Levemir, produced by Novo Nordisk, was nearly $300 this year, up from about $120 six years ago.
Sanofi told WBZ that, “We take this issue seriously and continue to explore innovative ways to find solutions to help eliminate or significantly reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for patients.”
But Smith-Holt rejected the company’s claim to be taking the pleas of parents seriously.
“I’m sick of them listening to my story and then doing nothing,” she told the group Truthout. “I’m not asking them to lower prices anymore, I’m demanding it.”