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Canada Drugs - To Buy or Not to Buy?

Warnings Being Issued About the Reimportation of Canada Drugs

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Updated June 30, 2011

FDA, Drugmakers, And Others Issue Warnings Against The Reimportation Of Canada Drugs

Many Turning To Canada Drugs

It's an often stated fact. Prescription drugs are expensive. The elderly, disabled, and people on fixed incomes are saddled with the burden of constantly searching for more affordable drugs.

But for many, it's still not enough help. It's a crisis situation to need drugs and not be able to afford them. It has driven many people to look outside the United States for solutions, with cheaper Canada drugs a possible solution.

Canada Drug Cost Survey

The AARP reported on a Canada drug cost survey conducted by the office of Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York. The Canada drug cost survey was released as part of the senator's effort to get a bill passed. The bill would have given U.S. consumers, pharmacists, and wholesalers the ability to access drugs from Canada and possibly other foreign countries. The survey of 120 pharmacies across New York, 8 of which were in Buffalo, revealed a substantial difference in cost if prescription drugs were filled in Canada rather than the United States.

For example: It was determined that if Buffalo-area residents purchased the popular arthritis drug Celebrex (Celecoxib) in Canada they could save $671 a year. Sounds great, right? Cheaper is better. So what's all the rigmarole? The answer, according to the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), is not so easy.

Warnings Issued About Canada Drugs

Around the same time the aforementioned survey was released, the FDA was busy issuing a warning to the office of the attorney general of the state of California. The warning came after California requested the FDA's opinion regarding the purchase of lower-cost drugs from Canada for the public employee's health program in order to save money. The FDA, with no uncertainty, stated that cities and states should not encourage people to buy drugs from other countries such as Canada, and should not look at importing drugs as a solution to relieving their own budget problems.

Drug Standards and Regulations Vary

Drug standards and regulations vary from country to country. The FDA is responsible only for drugs marketed and sold inside the United States. The FDA's closed distribution system allows them to maintain high standards for the manufacturing and distribution of drugs. Once consumers go outside that system, by either physically crossing the border to purchase drugs in another country or by using Internet pharmacies which are set up to serve as foreign store fronts, the FDA warns there may be potential health risks. The FDA has several concerns about imported drugs including:

  • quality assurance concerns
  • counterfeit potential
  • presence of untested substances
  • risk of unsupervised use
  • labeling and language issues
  • lack of information

The NABP (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy) released their Position Paper on the Importation of Foreign Prescription Drugs which detailed the scope of the problem based on FDA/U.S. Customs Service Studies. The NABP concluded that once patients and consumers go outside the U.S. regulatory system, they become vulnerable and put themselves at risk. To say the least, it's a case of "buyer beware". However, "awareness" cannot even protect against the hidden danger of possibly receiving:

  • expired drugs
  • contaminated pills
  • subpotent or superpotent strengths
  • counterfeit drugs

AARP reports that the head of the FDA spoke about the possibility of relaxing restrictions on buying drugs from Canada and other countries.

The bottom line - strong protections must be put in place so safety is not compromised.

Sources:

Imported Drugs Raise Safety Concerns, FDA Consumer Magazine, September-October 2002

Drugs From Canada?, AARP Bulletin, September 2003

NABP, Position Paper on the Importation of Foreign Prescription Drugs, March 2003

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