Secondary market arises for diabetes test strips

People with diabetes use these strips to test blood glucose levels, with those on insulin sometimes using 10 strips or more daily to manage their disease.

Five words in a recent classified ad revealed that a secondary market for lower-priced diabetes test strips is reaching into the greater Pittsburgh area.

“I Buy Diabetic Test Strips!” the ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette declared, with an 800-number and requirements that boxes be unopened and strips be unexpired.

The secondary purchase and resale of test strips, typically advertised through Craigslist, is centered for now in Michigan, with several ads showing up in eastern West Virginia and western Maryland.

With retail prices for test strips as high as $1.79 each, the so-called black or gray market finds people selling excess strips to buyers, who in turn resell them at sizable discounts. People with diabetes use these strips to test blood glucose levels, with those on insulin sometimes using 10 strips or more daily to manage their disease.

Physicians, medical insurance providers and test-strip manufacturers warn about potential health risks from false readings from off-market strips damaged by heat or humidity, among other problems.

“Products obtained from sources not authorized by LifeScan have been found to be counterfeit, stored or transported improperly, tampered with, stolen, associated with insurance fraud, illegally diverted or otherwise illegally obtained,” states LifeScan, the manufacturer of OneTouch test strips, the leading national brand. “LifeScan does not sell products through Amazon, eBay, or other online sources such as Facebook or Craigslist.”

Strip search

Several news reports have addressed the off-market sale of test strips.

Some involve reporters spotting a buyer through Craigslist or other sites, with the exchange occurring in a fast-food restaurant parking lot, raising the specter of a black-market operation that begs the question of legality.

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it’s perfectly legal, with limitations, to buy test strips and resell them, so long as the seller isn’t importing them from or reselling them in other countries.

“In general, firms that act as domestic distributors of devices made in the United States, as well as wholesale distributors that are not manufacturers or importers, are not required to register or list with the FDA,” FDA spokeswoman Tara Goodin said.

She added these words of caution:

“While it is technically legal to buy and sell blood glucose test strips from consumers under certain conditions, the FDA does not encourage this practice due to concerns about the safety and efficacy of test strips. It may be dangerous to consumers to use test strips that were not handled and stored correctly.”

Chris Leake, who placed the Post-Gazette ad, says he operates two family-owned companies — the Diabetic Supply Team, which purchases off-market test strips, and Valley Rain Medical, an online company based in Clovis, Calif., that resells test strips on its website.

He warned that it’s illegal to resell strips acquired through Medicare and Medicaid.

“We turn away people all the time and do not buy strips from them when we find out they received their strips through Medicare/​Medicaid,” Mr. Leake said.

He said his companies are properly licensed, pay taxes and have insurance. Other secondary operations, however, aren’t so transparent and don’t follow the professional guidelines that he said he does, including climate-controlled…