What to Know Before You Use OTC Insulin

People with type-1 diabetes, and some with type 2, need insulin to stay alive. If you have diabetes, running out of insulin is a serious emergency that can happen for several reasons, such as a broken or lost bottle or a forgotten prescription. Insulin is easier to get than you might think when you need it. Most forms of insulin made today need a prescription, but some older forms can be bought without a note from a doctor.

Over-the-counter (OTC) insulin is a cost-effective way for people with diabetes to deal with the shortage of insulin. Due to a regulatory loophole, over-the-counter (OTC) insulin has been available to the public for decades. Recently, the price of OTC insulin has decreased because of a partnership between Walmart and the drug company Novo Nordisk to sell a Walmart brand of OTC insulin called ReliOn.

OTC insulin

Some of the older types of insulin can be bought without a doctor's prescription, but many doctors in the current system need to learn this. Two kinds of human insulin can be purchased without a prescription: regular human insulin and NPH human insulin. This type of insulin was first made available in the early 1980s. It is harder to break down than some more recent prescription insulins. Patients can pay anywhere from $200 to $25 for each vial, depending on which pharmacy they visit.

Some types of insulin are now available over-the-counter (OTC) because they are not as strong and can be used without a doctor's supervision. The Food & Drug Administration has said that this type of insulin makes it possible for people with diabetes to get life-saving medicine in time for medical emergencies. Patients are switching to insulin that doesn't need a prescription because it costs less, especially since copayments and premiums are going up and insurance coverage is going away.

Impediments to Compliance

Even though there have been improvements in how insulin is made and given, many doctors, educators, and patients still focus on sticking to insulin. The main things that affect how well people stick to their insulin are patient barriers, drug factors, and system factors, according to the American Diabetes Association. 

Some problems people have with insulin are forgetting to ask for or pick up refills, failing to take the dose, being afraid of the medicine, feeling down, or having the wrong idea about how well the medicine works. Patients should consider how complicated dosage schedules, daily doses, high drug costs, and unwanted side effects can be. A systemic problem might be that there needs to be more help or follow-up.

When thinking about the best way to prescribe, dose, and give insulin, it's natural to think that money and time will be an issue. Many Americans need health insurance, have plans that need to cover more or have high deductibles. Because of this, many people only see their primary care doctors or specialists for at least a year.

Putting off or skipping these doctor visits can keep people from getting the necessary insulin and other medications to stay alive. Because of this, there has been a rise in the demand for insulins that don't need a prescription. Insulin can be bought over the counter by about 15% of people who need it.

How does over-the-counter insulin work, and how is it different from newer insulin?

The insulin you can buy over the counter is also called "synthetic human insulin." Insulin and insulin analogs, a newer type of insulin, are not the same. The most common types of insulin that can be bought without a prescription are −

  • Regular insulin, which works quickly.

  • NPH insulin, which works slowly.

  • A mixture of the two insulins is called 70-30.

Walmart sells all three under the ReliOn brand, and a single vial costs about $25. Large pharmacy chains allow people to get regular, NPH, and 70-30 insulin without a prescription. Walmart is said to sell more non-prescription insulin than any other pharmacy. It is most likely because Walmart's prices are so much lower.

Differences Between Insulin You Can Buy Over the Counter and Newer Insulin

People with type 1 & type 2 diabetes need to know the difference between over-the-counter (OTC) insulin and newer insulin analogs. How they work in the body, how long they stay there, and when they reach their peak differ from how insulin is made today.

If you use regular insulin, you might have to plan meals up to an hour ahead. Because it takes 30 to 60 minutes for your body to start responding to it. It differs from newer insulins, which must be taken 30 minutes before a meal. Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels, and don't be surprised by a low around six hours when NPH insulin is at its highest. It is different from modern insulins, which don't show a peak.

These are not exact copies of the first ones. They aren't even close to agreeing on anything. But if you know what to expect, you can prepare for it and do well. So, getting the word out about these insulins is very important.

When switching to new insulin, it's essential to work closely with a doctor or nurse to fine-tune the dose and determine how the new drug compares to the old one.

There are different ways to give over-the-counter insulin to a person. For use, you need a syringe and a vial. Insulin is often sold in the form of a pen these days. To do this, you must ask about the right way to handle and store insulin vials, syringes, and vials.


On the other hand, prescription insulin analogs are better because they keep glucose levels from going up and down too much and are more like normal insulin. But because of all the problems in the healthcare industry, doctors often find themselves teaching patients how to do the wrong things.

If you need a doctor's help and knowledge, using insulins you can buy over the counter could be dangerous. But in extreme cases, the insulin you can buy over the counter can save your life. So, it's crucial to talk to patients and teach them how much OTC insulin to take, which is usually the same amount as the analog insulin they were taking before.

People with diabetes should know that insulins sold over-the-counter (OTC) work differently than the insulins they may be used to by prescription. It is vital to know the signs of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia to avoid problems and when self-monitoring of blood glucose is needed. In less-than-ideal situations, patients can avoid or lessen diabetes-related illnesses and problems by learning to manage their diabetes.

Updated on: 16-Feb-2023


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