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What You Need to Know About Canadian Prescription Drugs

Support Growing, But This Option Carries Risks


Hispanic doctor talking with older patient
Blend Images - REB Images/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Group busing programs to help seniors purchase Canadian prescription drugs, like the one sponsored by the city of Warren, Michigan, are an indication that the high cost of prescription drugs in the U.S. is forcing local governments to get involved with citizens in ways that are far beyond usual government roles, according to a CBC News article.

The article quotes Tom Oren, a spokesman for AARP Michigan, speaking to the Detroit Free Press: "Local government is certainly getting involved. They perceive it as another service to the community."

U.S. Legislators Are Calling for A Policy Change
Across the United States, other local and state governments are getting involved in the push to provide seniors with the option to purchase lower priced Canadian prescription drugs.

For example, the State of Vermont petitioned the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a pilot program that would allow importation of Canadian prescription drugs.

Vermont state officials are also calling for a change in the position currently taken by the Bush administration and the federal government, which reject efforts like this to cut prescription drug costs for seniors and others.

U.S. Drug Costs Highest in the World
Prescription drugs are more expensive in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't enforce price controls to keep prescription drug costs down. U.S. drug companies have fought against limiting drug prices, or allowing the importation of price-controlled medications from other countries, because it would deprive the pharmaceutical industry of billions of dollars in profit.

Drug manufacturers argue that limiting costs would reduce the companies’ ability to pay for the costly research that creates new medications.

What You Can Do

  • If you choose to purchase Canadian prescription drugs by traveling to a Canadian pharmacy on your own, remember:
    • While importing Canadian drugs is against U.S. policy, the FDA has said that it will not prosecute individuals who import small (3 months or less) amounts for personal use.
    • The drugs you purchase may or may not be approved by the FDA, which is a U.S. regulatory agency. Canadian pharmacies sell drugs approved by Health Canada, which has standards that are similar to those of the FDA, so you can be reasonably assured of safety.
    • You may receive a generic substitute.
    • Work with a health care provider who is familiar with writing prescriptions in Canada
    • The Canadian pharmacy may be overwhelmed by U.S. customers, so be sure to check your medication, dosage and instructions carefully before you go back home.

  • If you choose to purchase Canadian prescription drugs online,you run a very big risk that the drugs may not be approved by Health Canada. An organization that regulates state pharmacies, The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), has received numerous complaints about online Canadian drug sellers. Common complaints include customers who thought they were getting Canadian prescription drugs but received drugs from Asia, and customers who were charged for medication but never received it.

    It is very important to ensure that you are dealing with a legitimate pharmacy and not an illegal drug Web site.

  • If you are one of many seniors who struggle with high prescription drug prices but are unable to travel to Canada, let your state and national government representatives know how you feel about this issue.

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