I’m strapped for cash. How bad would it be to buy insulin and test strips from sellers online?
Paris Roach, MD, responds
The high cost of insulin and blood glucose testing supplies has led many patients and caregivers to the black market, seeking unregulated sources of less-expensive products. While this may seem like a good solution, getting insulin and testing supplies from private sellers online or from pharmacies outside the United States is dangerous, and the American Diabetes Association cautions against it.
What to Know
Obtaining insulin from an unknown seller that you found online (on Craigslist, for instance, or via social media) or from pharmacies outside the United States is risky for several reasons. First, there is no guarantee that the product contains what the label declares; it could be a counterfeit drug. Even if it does contain the stated product, is it free of contaminants? Is the product within the expiration date? Does the product come with the approved Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling that includes instructions for use? U.S. pharmacies are required by law to certify that all of these requirements have been met.
Even if the product is genuine and pure, it must be properly stored. If insulin preparations freeze or remain above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, they rapidly lose potency. And note: It is illegal to buy insulin online, resell the drug, or bring foreign prescription drugs across the U.S. border.
Buying blood glucose test strips online is also risky. The FDA warns against doing so because unused pre-owned strips could cause infection. Plus, the accuracy of test strips is affected by extremes of heat and humidity during storage. While U.S. pharmacies are required to certify that proper storage conditions have been maintained, there is no way to verify that test trips obtained elsewhere have been stored properly.
Find Out More
If you find yourself unable to afford your insulin and/or testing supplies, talk to your diabetes care provider or medical social worker (often found in larger health care systems). Less-expensive alternatives can usually be found. For example, many patients do just as well with less-expensive human insulin preparations. These can often be obtained at 10 to 50 percent of the retail cost (or even less) of newer, more-expensive insulins.
You or your provider can talk to pharmaceutical representatives to see if you qualify for patient assistance or discount programs. Find a list of them—and what they offer—here.
Less-expensive store-brand glucose meters and test strips are available. Another option: Ask your provider if you can safely check your blood glucose less often and when to do so—you may be able to use fewer strips per day.
Get your insulin at a pharmacy, or via mail from a legitimate pharmacy chain such as CVS or Walgreens. If you find yourself unable to afford your insulin or testing supplies, talk to your diabetes care provider before rationing. And avoid purchasing these items from unauthorized sellers online or from pharmacies outside the United States. Safe and less-costly alternatives can usually be found.
Paris Roach, MD, an associate professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Indiana University School of Medicine, is editor-in-chief of Diabetes Forecast.