For many, the U.S. healthcare system is not meeting the needs of people with diabetes. People have filled this need by donating, selling, and trading diabetes medications and supplies on the black market.

More about the black market

The cost of diabetes medications and supplies has increased in recent years. People with diabetes face many challenges in accessing necessary medication and supplies. As a result, an unofficial black market exists where people exchange diabetes medication and supplies without formal prescriptions and pharmacies. This study found that most of the people who participated in the black market did so because of financial need and lack of access. In other words, diabetes medications and blood-test supplies are sold, traded and donated on black markets because the U.S. healthcare system simply is not meeting people’s needs.

For example, the healthcare system can be costly, slow, and complicated. This leads to people not getting the supplies and medications they need in time. This happens despite the fact that most of the participants in this study had health insurance. In these situations, complications from diabetes and unnecessary hospitalizations are common because of the lack of access to treatment. These are the people who tend to look to the black market to meet their immediate healthcare needs. In fact, more than half of the participants in this study said they had donated medications or supplies, 35% received donations, 24% traded medications, 22% borrowed items and 15% purchased items. These exchanges took place among family, friends, colleagues, online acquaintances and even strangers. Interestingly, those who reported financial stress due to diabetes management were 6 times more likely to participate in the black market.

In this study, there were no negative events resulting from this type of exchange. However, the study authors warn that there could be many potential negative effects. For example, incorrect use of medication, waiting too long to see a doctor, bad drug interactions, and harmful side effects. Additionally, it is illegal in the United States to share and trade prescription medications. As one study author said, “Our study points to an urgent need to improve access to medications that are essential for life.”

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Photo credit Namino Glantz at Mil Familias.