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Why Do People Buy Test Strips

About 6 million people in the U.S. use insulin to manage their diabetes, according to Matt Petersen, a managing director at American Diabetes Association. Those people use the test strips, along with a device called a glucometer, to check their blood glucose levels.

why do people buy test strips


Particularly, those with Type I diabetes might need more test strips than their insurance provides, said Debra Bell, Family First Health director of clinical quality improvement. "A (Type I) person has to have some way to check their blood sugar because their pancreas doesn't create insulin."

Exactly how these companies resell the test strips is unclear. Officials from Dollars for Strips weren't available for comment. And the person who answered the phone number listed on the signs popping up around town declined to comment on the record. The test strips can be found on and other online retailers.

That could be illegal, however. Anyone can legally buy test strips, but it is illegal for "government-funded health care recipients to sell them if they were paid for by government funds," Kostelac said.

Just how much of this market is based on buying test strips from government-funded health care remains to be seen. The York County district attorney's office wasn't familiar with the issue, said Kyle King, spokesman for the office.

Bell said that the current health care benefit structure suggests that Medicaid and Medicare patients would be among the most likely people to sell their test strips, a practice that could both harm their health and end up leading to criminal charges. "I'm scared for patients and families who are desperate enough to do this, that they'll get caught in a legal battle."

Those who buy the resold test strips could also encounter problems, Petersen said. Unlike test strips that come from a pharmacy, there's no guarantee what conditions these test strips were subjected to. The strips are heat sensitive and can give an incorrect reading if they'd been stored or shipped improperly.

Chelsea Arnold was getting into debt over tiny pieces of plastic: diabetic test strips. When Arnold was first diagnosed with diabetes she needed to test her blood sugar 10 times a day. She went to Wal-Mart and found that one box, which contained only a five-day supply of test strips, was $80. Arnold called her parents and told them she didn't know what to do. She didn't have the money.

Arnold then did what a lot of people do when they need help: She searched on Google. She typed in the words "cheap test strips," and Craigslist came up. She bought eight boxes for less than $100. At Wal-Mart, she would have paid $640. Arnold said, "it was like having a life sentence and then realizing that there's a cure."

With this Google search, Arnold stumbled into an underground economy for diabetic supplies. It's a market that offers a lower-cost option for test strips, though it is hard for customers to know where the boxes come from. Some boxes may be repackaged and unsafe to use, and some boxes are sold by diabetics who are desperate for cash. But many of them come from people who have health insurance and have accumulated extra test strips.

Trey falls into this category. (He asked us not to use his last name, because he fears retribution from his insurance company, even though he feels he hasn't broken any laws.) He moved from one type of blood sugar monitoring system to another type of monitoring system and ended up with 20 extra test strip boxes.

At that point, Trey began researching. He said, "Obviously No. 1: Is it legal to be able to sell test strips?" Trey realized that it is legal, with a caveat. "It's kind of a gray market as long as you don't get them from Medicare and Medicaid," he said. Trey then found a local buyer on Craigslist.

It starts to look a little seedy here. He put the 20 boxes in a brown paper lunch bag. "When I went to sell the test strips we met in a McDonald's parking lot," Trey said. "I came out with the bag full of test strips, and he had his wallet full of money and it was like we were doing a geriatric drug deal in the McDonald's parking lot to get rid of some test trips."

As far as we can tell, his test strips went on to the next stop: a gray market middleman, something like a wholesaler, someone like Christa Kral. Along with her cousin, Kral purchases diabetic test strips from people like Trey. Their website is called

To advertise, Kral used to post fliers near the train station in her town. Now her ads are online. She thinks the company's unusual tagline has also brought in customers: "Two moms will buy your test strips."

Kral operates her business out of her dining room. She has a cardboard box with about 20 boxes of test strips inside. She might pay $50 a box. It depends on the brand, the condition of the box, and the expiration date for the test strips.

Arnold realizes that if manufacturers or insurance companies lowered the price of test strips, she could be put out of business. She's actually OK with that, because, she said, "the business exists to help people afford the test strips they need."

2 Investigators found middlemen advertising on Craigslist, Facebook, and on street signs. They offer up to $20 for an unopened box of 50 name-brand strips. That same box retails for more than $100 at a big-box drugstore.

Stephanie also told me that the price paid for strips varied based on the brand and the expiration date. So I could sell this box of One Touch strips that I purchased for $10 on my private insurance to this unnamed company for $20. And this same box of strips will sell for $40 or more online. But are the quality products?

For someone who is uninsured or underinsured, $40 for a box of strips that retails for $50 or more sounds like a deal. But David Winmill, a nurse practitioner and Certified Diabetes Educator that practices in Ogden, Utah, says patients need to be skeptical when they purchase testing supplies online from supply resellers.

Test strips that are expired, exposed to heat, or used on a meter other than the one they were made for can produce inaccurate results. Despite the risks of using second-hand supplies, the soaring cost of being a healthy diabetic explains why this black market has developed.

People with diabetes (PWDs) are receiving test strips for free or highly discounted using Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance and then selling them to companies that will resell them to uninsured or underinsured people at a price that is still lower than retail price. The seller makes a little cash, and the buyer gets a nice discount, so everybody wins, right?

When I revealed to Marcus that I would be writing an article about buying/selling the strips, he said that he had nothing to add. And (no surprise) I also had trouble getting anyone on the inside of this business to talk to me. When I attempted to contact five different online resellers to talk about safety concerns or get them to explain their processes, not one of them returned my emails or calls.

This summer, the Health Department The Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction team set-out to teach Philadelphians how to use test strips to detect the presence or absence of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. In Philadelphia, fentanyl is often found in heroin and pressed pills (Xanax, oxys, percs) and could contaminate other drugs like cocaine, crack, and other stimulants.

The fentanyl test strips given away were packaged into kits including 10 strips, each with instructions on how to use them, a pocket-sized set of instructions with pictures, and information on fentanyl. The kits also included a NEXT Distro card, which is a mail-based program where people can receive free Narcan and fentanyl test strips.

SUPHR staff recommend that folks take some test strips and share them with loved ones who might need them. They even distributed them to businesses, such as barbershops, smoke shops, and individuals in cars took fentanyl test strips.

Overall, the Health Department gave away 11,715 test strips and 394 doses of Narcan over 45 events in four months. However, there were hundreds of memorable moments and potentially life-saving conversations.

The final event was a concert and mutual aid event hosted by Savage Sisters, Operation In My Backyard, and the South Philly Lunch with Punks. The event was held at FDR skate park in South Philly. Each nonprofit had tables set and a stage was set up for live music. While we were there, we had the opportunity to do Narcan and fentanyl test strip trainings on stage for everyone in attendance. It was a great way to end the 45-day campaign.

If you take fentanyl without knowing it, you might get a much higher dose of opioids than your body can handle, putting you at risk for an overdose. Fentanyl test strips can help. They detect the presence of fentanyl in drugs you intend to use.

Each strip costs about a dollar. But you might be able to get strips for free from your local health department, a needle exchange program, or other community-based organization. You can also buy them online at sites including,, and even

In 2021, the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that federal grant recipients, such as nonprofit drug-treatment and harm-reduction centers, can use grant money to buy the test strips.

Fentanyl test strips are easy to use, and they work well. Most are at least 96% accurate in detecting fentanyl as well as many fentanyl analogs (drugs that are chemically similar but not identical to fentanyl).

Research has shown that people who use fentanyl test strips often make changes that can keep them safer. In one study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 70% of participants said they would change their behavior if they knew the drugs they used contained fentanyl.

Other research from Brown University showed that half of test strip users found fentanyl in their drug supply. Of those who detected fentanyl, more than 40% decided to use a smaller amount of the drugs or to go more slowly to reduce their risk of overdosing. A similar percentage chose to use their drugs with other people (instead of alone) so someone would be around to call 911 or give them naloxone (Narcan), if needed, to reverse an opioid overdose. 041b061a72


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