Walter Littles eagerly waited first in line at Grace Pharmacy in Gainesville to receive a free six-month supply of the insulin he depends on.
The pharmacy, located at the GRACE Marketplace homeless shelter, started filling free prescriptions about three years ago and began giving away $600,000 worth of insulin to the public on Jan. 29. The free insulin will last until supplies run out, Pharmacy Manager Tim Rogers said.
Littles, 64, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1997. For a while, he was using his wife’s insurance, which lowered the cost; but because he left her coverage, he’s struggled to afford insulin.
Before Grace, Littles received his supply from Walmart for $25 a vial but said it got expensive when he paid for both Humulin-N – a slower acting and longer lasting insulin – and Humulin-R – which is used for to lower the blood sugar of those who need more than 200 units of insulin per day. Littles, who lives on a fixed income as a retiree, said he spent about $100 a month on insulin.
“So, I jumped at the opportunity when I found out that they were giving away insulin,” he said.
The insulin was donated to the pharmacy in preparation for a hurricane at the end of 2019, Rogers said. The pharmacy didn’t use much of it at the time and wanted to give away the leftover medication.
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use sugar and prevents dangerously high levels of blood sugar. People with diabetes are unable to produce enough insulin and many are dependent on prescription insulin to maintain their blood sugar. Insulin prices in the United States continue to rise and patients struggle to afford the expensive drug, which can average up to $5,000 a year in the U.S., Tampa Bay Times reported in 2020.
The insulin is distributed as 10 ml vials of Humulin-N and Humulin-R, Rogers said. Those with either a prescription or proof of need can come to Grace Pharmacy located in GRACE Marketplace at 3055 NE 28th Drive.
Rogers said the pharmacy would usually require a prescription to pick up medication, but since Humulin-N and Humulin-R do not require a prescription to dispense, the pharmacy is allowing people to pick up without one.
However, people can’t just walk in and pick up the insulin – they must know whether they’re using Humulin-N or Humulin-R, Rogers said.
Rogers said he has donated prescription drugs to those in need for the last 20 years. Traveling to Haiti, Chile, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, he works with other pharmacists and doctors to give away medications. He said he and a partner saw the need for a clinic that filled prescriptions for free in Alachua County, which inspired them to open the Grace Pharmacy three years ago.
“We don't even have a cash register here,” Rogers said. “It's an absolutely free pharmacy.”
Normally, the pharmacy doesn’t carry insulin due to the cost and short shelf life, he said, but some of the pharmacy’s current supply expires at the end of July, and the rest in December.
Mary Brinkley, a pharmacist at Grace, said this is one of the largest donations the pharmacy has received. On the first day the insulin was available, almost 50 people formed a line as she pulled up to work, which is unusual, Brinkley said. She handed out about 250 vials of insulin that day.
The general attitude of everyone in line was extremely grateful, she said. Older patients with lapsed insurance or patients with extreme uncontrolled diabetes who were likely paying $200 a month for medication stood in the line Friday.
“There was definitely a larger need than I had anticipated,” she said.
Brinkley said she hopes to see more people taking advantage of this opportunity to get free insulin.
Contact Lucille Lannigan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucilleLannigan.
Lucy Lannigan is a third-year journalism student from Key West. She works as the health and environment reporter on the uni desk. When Lucy’s not reporting, she loves to paint and spend time outside.