Dr. Neeru Gupta, UNB associate professor of Sociology, and pharmacist Ayub Chishti, at the campus pharmacy, recently spoke to The Brunswickan about the emotional, physical, and financial costs of living with diabetes.

“Diabetes is one word but it’s actually multiple conditions,” said Dr. Gupta. “Type 1 diabetes the causes aren’t well-known, but genetics is presumed to have a larger role and [it] is often diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. In this case, the pancreas doesn’t produce sufficient (or any) insulin that can help the body to manage its blood sugar levels, so medication is necessary to survive and the immediate health implications can include death.

“Type 2 diabetes is often, though not always, diagnosed at older ages and has been attributed as well to certain lifestyle behaviors which… are influenced by the environment but may include unhealthy diets [and] lack of exercise that can reduce the body’s ability to metabolize sugar. [It is] also related to increasing age, so with our aging population, we see it much more than we did in the past.”

Dr. Gupta adds that if high blood sugar levels are detected and managed properly early on, these groups could avoid further complications of the disease and the need to depend on medications. 

“Another type that is specific to biological women is gestational diabetes, which can occur during pregnancy. [It] often goes away after childbirth but is also linked to increased risk of Type 2 diabetes further down the road,” Gupta said.

Other types of diabetes might be brought on by damage to the pancreas caused by other reasons that are less well-known or less widespread.

Dr. Gupta is also interested in the social aspects that could have major impacts on diabetes and shape people’s health.

“There are some increasing public policies in Newfoundland and Labrador [that include] taxing sugar sweets and beverages, and New Brunswick’s school policy has banned the sale of sugar sweets and beverages in school. So those longer-term social environmental aspects are, I think, where we need to help curb the risk of Type 2 diabetes developing further down the line.”

People who are living with this condition often need to inject insulin multiple times a day just to survive – an act that is often stigmatized by society.

“Anytime we take the time to become informed about different kinds of health conditions and the implications which permeate the day-to-day lives of people with these conditions, the less stigmatizing these conditions become. [In turn, it will become] easier… to open that dialogue and to have those policy-informative discussions for change,” said Gupta. 

Chishti explained that the cost of living with diabetes is hard to nail down, as individual cases range in severity, type of medication needed, and side effects. 

“When looking at medication cost, you have to look at individualized cases: if the person has other conditions associated with it like heart or kidney troubles, and what the cost of testing is. But for average testing… it can amount to anywhere from $60–$100 a month, or if people are using the newer technology, it can amount to $200 a month or more.”

In addition to talking with the campus pharmacy, Chishti also suggested that students take advantage of the Student Drug Plan since it can cover up to 80% of the cost of testing supplies.

“My advice for students who have diabetes is to not opt-out of the Student Drug Plan because a lot of students don’t realize that they can use their parents’ plan and their university plan together, which would cut down the cost drastically for them.”

The Diabetes Education Centre and The Insulin Pump Program are other resources that Dr. Gupta encouraged everyone to check out to seek support and increase public literacy on diabetes. Additionally, it is important to look into where prescriptions are being filled, as pharmacies with rewards programs like Shoppers Drugmart have markups that can cost diabetics hundreds of extra dollars a year. Using smaller pharmacies like the one on campus gives a cost advantage.