Welcome back to our weekly diabetes advice column, Ask D'Mine! Your host is veteran type 1, diabetes author and educator Wil Dubois. This week's query has him doing a little science experiment to answer a question about re-using test strips... Not quite the 2-liter volcano like we made back in grade school, but educational and fun all the same!

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Randy, type 1 from Arizona asks: Is there any way to re-use blood glucose test strips? The cost of strips is killing me!

Wil@Ask D'Mine answers: I feel your pain, Brother. My insurance won't cover my iBG Star strips. At all. For any level of copay. Not even a single strip. Use another meter, they tell me. A meter is a meter.

It shouldn't matter, and I've been a meter whore since I was diagnosed, using whatever I could get my paws on, frequently moving from one platform to another. But recently, some S.O.B. gave me one of those damn iBG Star meters and now I'm in love.

Never in my diabetic life have I loved a meter. But... It is wonderful. Why? Two words: AgaMatrix accuracy and reduced gear load. OK, that was six words. But it's only two concepts.

Here's the thing. I'm not a cop. I'm tired of looking like one with a dozen boxes and pouches around my waist. This thing is small, thin, slick, and attaches to a device I need for work anyway. I found it so easy to use that I'm actually using it as often as I should. Combined with the pump-brain-like RapidCalc App, I actually dropped my A1C from 7.3 to 6.5 in six weeks, my first time out of the sevens in three years. Not that my insurance company gave a shit about that. Any strip that doesn't give them a kick-back isn't "medically necessary," and therefore isn't covered. Doesn't matter if it actually makes me healthier. Because, after all, health insurance is a business and has nothing to do with health.

So with the iBG Star sucking some serious dinero out of my checkbook — like 10% of my gross pay — I decided that desperate times call for desperate measures. Like you, Randy, I began to ponder the re-use of strips. For years I've heard anecdotally about people cutting strips in half, but couldn't find any real "case reports," so I suspect this is urban myth. But maybe, I thought, there's some other way. Last weekend, instead of helping my 10-year old son Rio with his science homework, I recruited him to help me try to figure out how to recycle test strips. (Hey, applied science is educational, too!)

We started by playing around with used strips.

The first thing we noticed is you can stick a used iBG Star strip in the meter and the meter promptly wakes up and tells you that you are trying to use a dead strip.


So, the meter can recognize dead strips... How? After dissecting a strip and studying it, I decided that a drop of blood, wet or dry, completes a circuit. If the meter can send a charge though the strip, it's been used. I licked the blood off a used strip (one of my own, of course) and plugged it back into the iBG Star. It was accepted as a new strip.

Now we are getting somewhere, I thought.

Next, I reassembled the strip and tried to apply a new drop of blood to the dissected strip. No dice. The blood-sucking action of the strip was wiped out by eviscerating it. We then tried soaking used strips in alcohol, milk, hot water, Evan Williams, you name it, to get the blood out. Then we let them dry, and tried to use them a second time. And you know what? About half the strips worked again.

But don't get too excited yet.

There's just one little problem. They "work" only in that you can trick the meter into thinking a used strip is a new strip. Some of our test readings were dead on the second time around, but fully half of them had crazy-off numbers. Like 200 points off. So while you can reuse strips with a lot of work, you can't trust the results. At least not with this brand, and I suspect that's true across the board. I'm guessing that the strip is really only loaded with enough glucose oxidase for one test, with enough "extra" to make sure that one test goes well.

Bummer... If I could even get two uses out of each strip, I could save more than $2,000 a year. Money that I'd rather use to support the local prostitution industry than big pharma... ;)

My next money-saving thought was to use Presto strips in the iBG Star. They look just the same, are made by the same folks, and cost five times less. In fact, AgraMatrix's Presto, Jazz, and iBG Star strips all appear identical both inside and outside. Now, of course it's possible that the chemicals inside really are different, but to the naked eye there is only one difference: the notch. The end of the strip that goes into the meter has a notch of varying widths and depths. The Presto strip's notch is deeper than the iBG Star strip's notch.

We tried masking down the notch of a cheaper Presto strip with tape, but those sneaky engineers at AgaMatrix knew there were people like you and I out there, damn it. When you try and tape something over the notch to make it smaller, it makes the strip thicker, and then it doesn't fit into the meter slot anymore.

But Jazz strips have no notch at all. So using an X-Acto Knife I cut an iBG Star-sized notch in a Jazz strip and, low and behold, it worked just fine. Of course the problem is that it takes quite a bit of time to notch the strip, and Jazz strips are almost as expensive as the iBG Star strips, so what's the point?

And it also doesn't let you "reuse" like you had hoped for. It's just a time-intensive way of repurposing one expensive strip to stand in for another expensive strip. Hardly worth the effort.

Yikes, sorry Randy. That was a rather long way of saying, "No. There's no way to reuse a strip." No amount of "mad science," strip dissection, or strip deception makes a difference.

The money men have long ago out-smarted us.

“This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.”