• 9 Investigates: Companies buy, sell diabetic test strips

    By: Mark Becker


    Story highlights:

    • Some companies are buying and selling diabetic test strips.
    • The selling of secondhand medical supplies is considered a "gray market."
    • The practice is legal.

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Lawton Hatley didn't know he had diabetes until it almost killed him.

    “Overnight I basically crashed and burned. My blood sugar shot up to 1,200. My kidneys were shriveling up.  About 4 a.m., I begged for them to call an ambulance,” Hatley said.

     He ended up in an emergency room in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina where he was barely able to communicate to a friend that he was probably having a diabetic attack, and doctors immediately started giving him insulin.

    Since that night, 13 years ago, tiny diabetic test strips have been his lifelines.  He uses them four to six times a day to test his blood sugar levels and spends more than $1,500 a year to stay supplied with strips.

    So he was surprised and concerned when he saw signs along some Charlotte streets offering to pay cash for diabetic test strips. The signs have a telephone number and have popped up mostly in some of Charlotte’s poorer neighborhoods where people desperate for cash may be willing to part with their extra test strips. 
    Hatley can’t understand why.

    “I don't know how anybody could manage their diabetes without test strips,” he said.  

    Then there’s the question of someone profiting from the transaction.
    “How are they cashing in on this? Because you're cashing in on someone's harm, basically,” he asked.

    Doctor speaks on sale of diabetic test strips

    It’s a view that others have taken of an industry that moves secondhand medical supplies through what some call a “gray market.”

    “Diabetic test strips are extraordinarily expensive,” said Dr. Marshall Silverman, who is on the board of Charlotte’s chapter of the American Diabetes Association.

    The ADA said more than a million people in North Carolina have diabetes and most have been prescribed test strips.

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    Silverman said some of them may be cashing in by selling their extra strips at cut rate prices.  The people behind the signs then turn them around and still turn a nice profit — and he says it’s all legal.

    “It's not illegal. Unless the test strips were procured through Medicare or Medicaid there's no law against it,” Silverman said.

    Eyewitness News contacted the company that put the signs up in Charlotte and a recorded message directed Channel 9 to a website. At least half a dozen websites offer to buy and sell the test strips, but only one responded to an email.

    “There's a lot of money to be made out there, but you need to do it the right way,” said Chad Langley, who started buying and selling test strips after his father, who has diabetes, was throwing away some of his unused supply.

    Langley said they do not put up signs, but do all their business online, where they have an “A” rating with the BBB. 

    He said they only buy unopened boxes of test strips that are not outdated, but said other companies may cut corners to make profits.

     “There's been news of scams, companies selling fake test strips,” Langley said, and he advised anyone doing business in the gray market to be careful. “I'd say do research into the company, check out their background. Make sure they're a legitimate company.”

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