What You Need to Know About the Black Market for Diabetes Supplies

If you or a loved one lives with diabetes, you probably know that managing the disease is far from inexpensive. But diabetes, of course, doesn’t just affect those who can afford to pay for all the supplies and other expenses. It also affects those under financial strain. And since access to expensive supplies like insulin and testing strips is literally a matter of life or death, this extremely stressful situation understandably drives desperate patients and families to get access to these things in just about any way possible.

This is part of what keeps the black market for diabetes supplies running. Here’s how it works.

Adobe Stock/Peter Atkins
Adobe Stock/Peter Atkins

People with insurance coverage obtain supplies—typically test strips. They often have extra due to switching glucose meters or no longer needing them for whatever reason. However, some also cut back on the amount of blood glucose testing they do. Still others lie to their insurance about how many they need and thus end up with extra. In any case, these individuals either directly sell their unused test strips to others with diabetes, or they’ll sell them to middlemen, who then turn around and sell these test strips at a lower price than the market cost—often to those without health insurance coverage.

This technically isn’t illegal, as long as those selling them register with the FDA (few do). Test strips are not a controlled substance, after all. But the issue is still very murky, not to mention a little dangerous; those who get supplies from unofficial sources don’t know where exactly they come from and whether or not they were handled and stored correctly. These supplies, as such, may not be safe to use, so buying them is a gamble.

Adobe Stock/Sergey Lavrentev
Adobe Stock/Sergey Lavrentev

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Of course, if patients need and cannot afford supplies from a pharmacy, this may appear to be the only option. However, according to nurse practitioner and Certified Diabetes Educator, David Winmill, patients can also talk to their doctors about potential options, or they can apply to programs like Lilly Cares, Cornerstones4Care, and Sanofi’s Patient Connection for help obtaining insulin.

Even if the practice of buying diabetes supplies on the black market isn’t technically illegal, it can do harm to taxpayers when those with diabetes obtain more test strips than they need from government programs. Companies who pay for health insurance also witness spikes in costs due to black market sales like this.

We at The Diabetes Site recommend that patients get their diabetes supplies from trustworthy, official sources and avoid third-party sellers for their own safety. If you are struggling to afford your diabetes supplies, please talk to your doctor as David Winmill suggests.

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