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April 25, 2002

Insulin

Question from Moundsville, West Virginia, USA:

I have been on NPH and Regular insulin for 12 years, I am very well controlled (usually within the normal range), and I I visit the doctor three times a year for the routine blood work and review of my insulins. How comparable is WalMart's Reli-On brand to Lilly's Humulin? Is is safe to change insulin brands? Is insulin basically insulin, no matter who manufactures it? Is it okay for me to switch?

Answer:

WalMart is buying insulin from one of the major manufacturers and putting their name on it. I would recommend you find the name of the manufacturer and make sure it is either Lilly or Novo Nordisk. If it is, it seems reasonable to use. There is probably some variability in switching brand-name insulins back and forth, no matter which of the insulin brands you use predominantly.

JTL
Additional comments from Dr. Donough O’Brien:

My information is that the WalMart insulin is actually manufactured by Novo and not Lilly. The actual insulin would then be identical, although there would be differences in manufacturing details. Likewise their strips and syringes are made by MediSense.

DOB

[Editor’s comment: If you decide to make a try at switching brands to save money, or because your insurance plan demands a switch, please consider the following:

notify your diabetes team that you will be making the switch, and get their agreement.
don’t switch when you’re under pressure (such as a job stress) or in an unusual setting (such as a vacation on a remote island).
and, especially since you’re well-controlled, and the major (although remote) risk would be possible hypoglycemia,

plan to check blood sugar levels much more often than usual for a while after the switch — at least 4 times a day.
don’t switch from an old bottle of your present brand (where the insulin might be “weaker” than usual) to a new bottle of the new brand.
notify family and friends that you’ll be on a slightly different program, and to help you watch for low sugars.
and carry sugar with you to treat unexpected low sugars.

WWQ]