Insulin shipped from Canada to the United States — not so fast!

Written by Jeffrey Poirier, MBA, RPh | Posted December 20, 2023

The United States Pharmacopeia and Health Canada require that refrigerated medications maintain certain storage conditions throughout shipment and receipt by a patient. To accomplish this, pharmacies must utilize certified cold shipping containers, which are tested to maintain the required temperature for a designated amount of time. The best of these containers are only certified for up to 96 hours. If your insulin – or other refrigerated drug product – does not arrive in the designated amount of time, there is no guarantee temperature variations haven’t compromised it. An alternative is for the pharmacy to include temperature sensing devices that alert the consumer that the conditions during shipping have not exposed the medication to freezing or high temperatures. If a pharmacy can’t guarantee delivery within these short time frames or doesn’t include temperature-sensing devices, beware! Using compromised insulin poses many dangers including but not limited to inconsistent blood glucose levels.

Dangerous Online Pharmacies Advertising Insulin Shipment

When reviewing websites that advertise shipping of cold storage medications, a consumer should note the location of the pharmacy, the stated amount of time it will take to receive the package, and the details about how it will be packed. If this information is not available, move on! Purchasing your refrigerated medication through such a website is likely not safe. 

In general, a package of refrigerated medication should arrive and be put in a refrigerator within 48-72 hours of being shipped depending on the certified shipping container used. When pharmacies ship these medications internationally, these time frames are rarely achieved. Domestically, pharmacies have access to quicker delivery times and a package can easily arrive within the certified timeframe.

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PharmacyChecker Standards for Shipping Insulin

PharmacyChecker standards for refrigerated medication shipments – both domestically and internationally – are modeled after the standards set by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP Chapter 1079). In addition to demonstrating compliance with policy, pharmacies must complete test shipments annually to verify the integrity of the cold chain in various geographies and climates. Given the long shipping times currently available internationally, no PharmacyChecker-accredited pharmacies ship cold chain medications internationally at this time. These standards are closely followed at domestic specialty drug pharmacies, however, the high cost of the medications shipped from these pharmacies more than offset the increased shipping cost.

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How to Safely Get Insulin 

If you are having trouble affording the refrigerated medication that your doctor prescribed, the first thing to do is tell your doctor. There are many effective, less expensive types of insulin that can help manage your diabetes. You should also check for manufacturer assistance programs that can considerably reduce your cost if eligible. Additionally, if you are in the United States, you can enter your medication name and zip code on to compare local coupon prices. There are reputable pharmacies located domestically that can ship cold chain products appropriately. With the aforementioned in mind, don’t hesitate to call the pharmacy and ask them “How can I be sure?”

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