Can I Get Insulin Over the Counter?

Yes, OTC insulins are available but these older-generation insulins have different action profiles that you need to consider when treating

We receive many questions about over-the-counter insulin, so we decided to ask certified diabetes educator  Jennifer Smith of Integrated Diabetes Services (IDS) about it. Here’s her answer:

Today, most prescriptions for those using insulin cover the most up-to-date types of insulin – basal insulins such as Lantus and Levemir, as well as rapid-acting insulins like Novolog, Humalog and Apidra.

Read “Can I Use Insulin Past Its Expiration Date?”

When you buy insulin over the counter (OTC), these brand-name insulins are not available.

ReliOn Brand of insulin at Walmart is available without prescription in some states. However, it includes very limited types of insulin. These are the older generation of insulins, including R insulin, also called Regular (a short-acting insulin and N insulin (an intermediate-acting insulin taken twice a day). These generic OTC insulins have a very different action profile than prescribed insulins. However, generic does not by any means indicate low quality.

Having an insulin back-up plan in case you find yourself with an outdated prescription or short on funds is important. It would be beneficial to discuss with a health care provider how to go about using these generic OTC insulins before you have to use them, however.

Read “Why Walmart Insulins Aren’t the Answer to High Insulin Prices.” 

Rapid-acting insulin works faster and clears your body faster. Basal insulin analogs typically work longer and more evenly without a peak in action, unlike the intermediate-acting insulin that has to be taken two times a day. R and N insulin types require users to have a bit more stability to their meals and daily activities due to the action time of the insulin.

It should be emphasized that insulin is a must-have medication for those on insulin therapy. Without it, blood glucose will rise to dangerous and life-threatening levels. In the case of a prescription. It’s good that there is the option to get an OTC insulin quickly and at a low cost. However, understanding how to use it in time of need is also important to ensure blood glucose regulation.

Integrated Diabetes Services provides one-on-one education and glucose regulation for people who use insulin. Diabetes “coaching” services are available in-person and remotely via phone and online for children and adults. Integrated Diabetes Services offers specialized services for insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor users, athletes, pregnancy & Type 1 diabetes, and those with Type 2 diabetes who require insulin. For more information, call 1-610-642-6055, go to or

Jennifer Smith holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Biology from the University of Wisconsin. She is a registered and licensed dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and certified trainer on most makes/models of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring systems. She has lived with Type 1 diabetes since she was a child,and thus has first-hand knowledge of the day-to-day events that affect diabetes management.

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