Misuse of diabetes drugs a little known reality
By Julia Telfer
dLife Staff Writer
A couple of years ago, a bottle of Meagan Esler's insulin went missing from the refrigerator door. Although she thought it was strange, she didn't give it much thought — that is, until she found the purple snap-off cap in her son's room, and her life changed forever.
"I felt my stomach drop as the realization hit me that my son had taken the missing bottle," she said. "He had an ongoing drug problem, of which we were well aware, but I never dreamed that he would try insulin." All the cold medicine, pain relievers, and prescription drugs were locked away, but the thought of locking up her insulin never even crossed Meagan's mind.
After years of denial and lying (and a month in rehab), her son finally told the truth. "He knew I could act drunk if I had low blood sugar, so in an attempt to get a similar effect, he snuck a bottle of my insulin out of the refrigerator." With no knowledge of her dosing instructions, he filled the syringe to the halfway point and began to stick it into his arm. Thankfully, he pulled the needle out of his arm without injecting the insulin — he said it hurt terribly and he got scared.
As a person with type 1 diabetes, Meagan takes five or six insulin shots a day to keep herself alive and healthy. Her son didn't realize that there was a tremendous risk of death involved for someone without diabetes injecting insulin.
What are the risks?
People with type 1 diabetes require insulin therapy because the beta cells of their pancreas are no longer manufacturing sufficient amounts of insulin to control their blood sugar levels and keep them within a target range. Insulin lowers blood sugar levels by allowing glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter the cells of the body, where it's used for energy. A healthy pancreas is able to control the body's blood sugar levels and keep them within that target range. Therefore, if a person without diabetes takes an insulin injection, it will likely bring blood sugar levels below the target range, causing hypoglycemia. If left untreated, very low blood sugar can lead to loss of consciousness, seizure, or coma. It may even be fatal.
It is important to note that it isn't only teens struggling with drug addiction who are experimenting with insulin. There have been documented cases of teenage girls with diabetes who also have eating disorders withholding insulin to control their weight. Insulin is also used in athlete populations as a way to increase muscle mass, often in combination with other performance-enhancing drugs such as rhGH or anabolic steroids.
Meagan has decided to share her family's story to spread awareness about recreational insulin abuse. She had never heard of anyone taking insulin if they didn't have to, and she hopes her story will be able to prevent others from experiencing the pain that her family has.
- Castillo, E. and R. Comstock. 2007. Prevalence of use of performance-enhancing substances among United States adolescents. Pediatric Clinical North America 54:66-75.
- Hold, R. I. G. and P. H. Sonksen. 2008. Growth hormone, IGF-I and insulin and their abuse in sport. British Journal of Pharmacology 154:542-556.
- Rogol, Alan D. 2010. Drugs of abuse and the adolescent athlete. Italian Journal of Pediatrics 36(19):1-6.
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