Black market insulin refers to any insulin that is not obtained through a pharmacy or other legal medical source. Buying insulin from an unregulated source can result in severe complications and even death. So why do some diabetics search for alternative ways to attain their life-saving medication and take risks buying black market insulin?

The most likely answer is the high cost of insulin in the United States. Studies have found that 25% of people with diabetes use less insulin than they need because of the high cost. There are safer, more affordable options, to keep you or family members on the medications they need without purchasing insulin through black-market sources.

Price of insulin

Insulin prices have continued to rise over time, especially in the United States. Unlike other medications, insulin has been around for over 100 years, and despite its age, it continues to become more expensive.  In fact, insulin costs 10 times more in the U.S. than in any other developed country.

Canadian vs US Insulin Prices

Average spending

On average, people with diabetes spend almost three times as much money on healthcare alone. The American Diabetes Association estimates that diabetics spend around $9,800 per year on diabetes-associated care alone. With rising healthcare costs and the loss of jobs during the pandemic, people have turned to other sources.

What are black market sources of insulin?

Most black-market insulin is purchased online from another person through Craigslist, Reddit, or Facebook marketplace. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine showed more than 300 ads on Craigslist for insulin. The number of ads found during the study was before the pandemic, which certainly exacerbated an already growing issue.

3 risks you take when using black-market insulin

If you are getting insulin from a non-medical source, you cannot be certain it is safe. There are many risks associated with using black-market insulin, but the biggest issues are related to insulin type, storage criteria, and contamination.

1. Is it the right type of insulin?

There are several different types of insulin on the market, and each one works in a different way. For instance, insulin lispro is short-acting insulin, usually taken at mealtime. Short-acting insulins have a rapid onset, lowering your blood glucose quickly to compensate for what you have eaten.

Insulin glargine, however, is a long-acting insulin, typically taken at night. Long-acting insulin of this type does not have a rapid onset and a peak like short-acting and is meant to cover your body’s natural production of insulin.

If you purchase black market insulin, a prescription is not involved in the process as it would be with a reputable pharmacy. This means that you could easily receive the wrong insulin which could result in serious complications. Taking the wrong dose of the wrong insulin could cause severe hypoglycemia, coma, and even death.

2. Was the insulin stored appropriately?

Insulin needs to be stored at a specific temperature to maintain its efficacy. It cannot be frozen or exposed to sunlight and warm temperatures. Pharmacies have refrigeration for medications like insulin. When unopened and refrigerated, insulin lasts until the expiration date on the vial. When opened, or left at room temperature, it is only good for around 30 days.

If insulin is left out at room temperature for too long, the chemical components can break down, making it less effective. A study of 388 diabetics found that around 79% of insulin users stored their insulin at the incorrect temperature. In fact, many of them carry their insulin on them, leaving it in their car, or handbag which can potentially affect the integrity of the medicaiton. After one month, insulin left at room temperature should no longer be used. When buying from a black-market source, there is no way of knowing how the medication has been stored.

3. Could the insulin you received be contaminated?

If the insulin you are buying from a black-market source has been used, there is no way to know if it is contaminated. Although it is not recommended, some people reuse insulin syringes. After injection, there are microscopic pieces of blood on the needle. When drawing up more insulin from a vial, this blood may contaminate the insulin and put you at risk for infection with a bloodborne pathogen.

Insulin vials can also become contaminated with bacteria. Repetitive introduction of needles into the vial, without proper cleaning with an alcohol pad, could result in bacteria growing in the insulin. Improper cleaning in addition to poor storage habits can not only make insulin ineffective but put you at risk for skin infections at your injection sites.

What are your options?

With nearly 30 million people in the U.S. having diabetes, and 25% of those people on insulin, there must be better options. Talk with your doctor, check with free clinics, and buy Canadian insulin.

Talk with your doctor first

When considering affordability, and your prescription medications, you should always talk with your doctor first. Some formulations of insulin are more affordable than others.  While they can still be costly, they could be a better option for you.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor About Diabetes

Free clinics

Depending on where you live, you may be eligible to receive healthcare at free clinics. Some free clinics have resources for prescription drug assistance. You can look online at The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to find locations near you.

Buy Insulin Online

The concept of Americans buying insulin from Canada is not new. In fact, people who live near the U.S. – Canada border have been doing it for years due to the much lower costs of prescription medications in Canada. With expanding uses for the internet, it is now possible to easily & conveniently get prescription medications, like insulin, no matter how far you live from the border.

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