CBS4 Investigates Black Market Diabetes Test Strips

DENVER (CBS4) – A CBS4 investigation has uncovered an alarming practice that has the director of one of the nation’s leading diabetes centers and journals issuing a warning to patients. The warning is to stay away from diabetes test strips being sold on the black market at a fraction of the retail cost.

CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger found problems that could jeopardize the health of those who rely on them.

The little strips can mean the difference between health and illness and possibly even death for someone with diabetes. Sallinger found recalled, expired, even counterfeit strips being sold in violation of state and federal laws and possibly risking the lives of those who buy them.

CBS4 noticed an unusual sign posted along a road just outside a pharmacy that said “Cash paid for diabetic test strips — Call Rick” and the sign has a phone number.

At least one motorist Dave Honeyman found it odd.

“What do you see next? Cash for socks I guess if somebody thinks they are worth something,” Honeyman said.

To people with diabetes the little strips are certainly worth something. They cost only a few cents to make, but sell for $1 or more each.

“A 3-month supply for me runs about $1,000,” said Chris Ainsworth, who is diabetic.

Diabetics may test up to seven to 10 times a day, taking a drop of blood putting it on the strip in a meter to find out if their blood sugar level is too high or too low. The consequences can be serious. Andrea Houck is a diabetic and also a nurse who runs a diabetes clinic. She’s quite familiar with the symptoms.

“Irritability, headaches, cold clammy sweating — it can go into a non response, black outs and eventually a coma,” said Houck.

With a markup of up to 95 percent it’s not difficult to understand why a black market of sorts has sprouted up for the strips. On eBay Sallinger found hundreds of offers for diabetic test strips starting at a fraction of the retail cost — and on Craigslist as well.

test strip CBS4 Investigates Black Market Diabetes Test Strips

A diabetes test strip (credit: CBS)

There are even companies that have formed with websites offering cash for left over strips. A picture on a site shows a fist filled with cash and diabetic test strips. Sallinger asked a CBS4 employee with diabetes to contact some buyers and offer to sell them strips that shouldn’t be used.

“I’ve got two boxes that are expired from last month,” the employee told the buyer. The man replied he recently found someone who recycles out-of-date strips.

Sallinger went to the Barbara Davis Diabetes Center in Aurora and showed his findings to the director, Dr. Satish Garg.

“This is unbelievable, my God,” Garg said.

Garg pointed out some of them shouldn’t even be on the market at all.

“Some of these have been recalled and the patients don’t know,” Garg said. He said he will now warn the center’s patients.

And that was just the beginning. There are also counterfeit test strips and ones paid for with tax dollars through Medicaid.

How easy is it to get these strips into circulation? CBS4 set up a meeting at a coffee shop with one person who advertised he was buying the strips. Sure enough he was willing to take out-of-date strips and others from a box that could easily have been tampered with.

“This one was opened. I didn’t use any of them,” the CBS4 employee said. She added, “Not sure if that matters either. They’re good.”

The man buying the test strips replied, “They’re beter if they’re not opened but that’s alright. That’ll work,” he said.

Sallinger found exchanges like these are making those dependent on the accuracy of the strips very nervous.

“Until you showed me that I thought we were protected and that it couldn’t happen to us,” Ainsworth said.

There can serious legal issues. A couple in California was arrested by the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration and charged them with selling more than $1 million worth of test strips on eBay.

A Seattle man was sentenced to a year prison after he was convicted of selling test strips also on eBay.

Federal law requires those selling diabetes test strips register with the FDA. The agency adds expired strips should not be used.

From FDA Spokesman Devin Koontz:

FDA wants to emphasize that expired glucose test strips should not be used.  Diabetics have no assurance that expired strips are providing them with an accurate reading. Glucose test strips are very sensitive to temperature variation, which makes it impossible to have confidence in their quality unless they are purchased from a legitimate, qualified pharmacist or other health professional (i.e., samples from a doctor or manufacturer’s representative).

Consumers should avoid expired strips and report online retailers or any instances here: (Reporting Unlawful Sales of Medical Products on the Internet).

If a customer has already purchased the strips, they should dispose and buy others that aren’t expired and/or contact the manufacturer to see if there’s any way to verify whether the strips are still usable. You can do this with some strips.

The risks can be high — see a fairly recent recall we did that has some detail about the potential risk of false reading with glucose test strips:

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  • Paul Christian

    It is easy to be critical,, but with our health care system there are people who are doing without strips, so old ones can be better than none at all. Fix the underlying problem and implement a system that gets everyone necessary medical supplies and health care.

  • Coupe

    I was disappointed that there wasn’t further comment in the news segment addressing the 95% markup.

  • granny

    So now there is a black market for these test strips for those who dont have insurance. So glad there is insurance to pay for these for dad and grandpa. guaranteeing more consistancy with the product It is important to use the same brand/supplier for the strips to get consistant readings. Also, make sure the are not expired on the box. V.

  • Dan T

    I posted a long comment that won’t surface so I’ll keep it brief. While it’s fine to expose a black market product, you should certainly investigate the reasons for it in the first place. That being and extremely high mark up on a widely used product. Let’s look into 95% product markups on a product keeping people healthy and alive.

  • DenverVet

    I wonder how wide spread this really is…………….. I think most people pay and get them from reliable sources, but, there is always the person looking for a bargain. I feel badly for people who have used these.

  • Gerhard

    This report only concentrated on the few bad eggs as usual. Why did some who are selling on EBay go to jail and others are still selling there? I think lower prices are good for all as long as the product is good.

  • Tee

    I am one of these “Strip Sellers”.There is absolutely NO WAY that I would sell expired strips. We don’t even get money for them. So why is this story so centric on that premise.

    2) every strip buyer I know only buys or resells sealed boxes.

    3) We are not a “Black Market” since none of what we do is illegal.

    4) These are not Prescription only items. You can buy these over the counter at almost any drug story.

    5) It’s not a “Medical Device”

    6) Most strip sellers I know will not deal in stolen merchandise. A small few do, and those ones are the exception to the rule.

    7) Many people with Diabetes throw these away when others can use them. Why should we not find a use for them?

    8) The Companies that make test strips think we are bandits or thieves cutting in on their action. Yet our strips comprise of a small percentage of the test strips out there in circulation, and there are very few of us actually doing this business.

  • Barbara Z.

    The companies making these strips are making millions on the backs of T1 and T2 diabetics. Sure, in a perfect world no one would use expired strips. This isn’t a perfect world, and just tossing an expired vial worth $25 or $50 is ridiculous. We don’t ‘have insurance, so I use expired strips on my T1 daughter. In my opinion, if you first test the strips with control solution and it comes out in the test range, what’s the problem? And if a number is wonky the first time, i.e. unexplainable, test again. Really, the problem isn’t with the so-called black market. It’s with the manufacturers.

  • Mary

    I’m also a Test Strip buyer and I thank Tee for making a comment. I NEVER buy expired or stolen strips! This article is very misleading. It is written to give the impression that those who buy test strips are all running unethical businesses.
    It is not illegal for us to continue doing business since we do not work with a Medical device or medical prescription. We really make a big difference so that many boxes do not go to waste. Diabetics get too many boxes or no longer need them for many reasons such as a gestational pregnancy is over or a pre-diabetic has lost weight. They no longer use the strips so they now have an incentive to sell them so they don’t end up expired and in the trash.
    Like Tee said, all of the buyers that I know will not ever buy expired or stolen strips.

    The companies that think we are bandits should realize that we are keeping these strips from getting tossed in the trash and wasted. These companies would rather see the boxes get thrown out and turn around and keep charging a 95% to 99% markup for strips that, like the article itself says,and I quote, “They cost only a few cents to make, but sell for $1 or more each.”
    Gee, lets all ask ourselves who the bandits really are!
    This article goes on to show how one diabetic and again I will quote, ““A 3-month supply for me runs about $1,000,” said Chris Ainsworth, who is diabetic.””
    Why does he have to pay that much for his 3-month supply? It is outrageously too expensive!
    Thanks to these companies who charge way too much we are able to have a way to create a win-win where we are able to keep strips that are not expired but not going to be used from being thrown out and we are able to get them redistributed at a savings to those who do actually need them.
    I’m not in any black market. I’m not a bandit. I feel good about the service we provide. I can sleep at night. I know the other strip buyers are most likely doing business ethically and sleeping well each night also.

  • jenn

    In my opinion, this is like telling people not to buy medication from Canada (even though it has the EXACT SAME manufacturer in many instances). Drug companies want the profit, and are willing to scare consumers, even when they are willing to share and be compensated for helping the less fortunate. If I were diabetic and had these items, I’d gladly give them away for free if I wouldn’t be persecuted for it.

  • Glucose Test Strips

    Oh I really appreciate the CBS4 team and specially Rick Sallinger for providing me such a piece of information. I am also a diabetic patient. Thanks for your wonderful job mate.

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