The average American spends $1,200 a year on prescriptions.
Even though $1,200 a year may sound like a bargain if you live with a chronic disease, it’s still more than almost every other high-income country in the world. And that figure acknowledges the fact that 84 percent of the U.S. prescription market is generic.
Costs are even going up. Between 2008 and 2016, brand-name prescriptions rose nine percent per year. Injectable medicines jumped 15 percent each year.
Across the border in Canada, the same drugs that ruin your finances are a fraction of the price. However, buying prescriptions from Canadian pharmacies isn’t as straightforward as it could be.
Here’s what buying drugs from Canada could offer, how to do it, and what’s about to change.
Can You Buy Prescriptions from Canadian Pharmacies? It’s Complicated
Federal law prevents you from importing prescription drugs as a patient. Only manufacturers are allowed to do that. The law also technically says you can’t cross the border to buy prescriptions and then bring them home with you.
The FDA rule says it protects consumers. Drugs purchased abroad don’t follow FDA rules, and thus incur more significant and unknown risks. But it also costs patients who have recurring prescriptions a lot of money.
Enforcement of the law is patchy. As a consumer, you can’t buy a year’s worth of drugs across the border and come back with them. But a personal supply? You can get away with it.
According to the FDA’s “Coverage of Personal Importations,” you can buy 90 days worth of certain drugs and devices if:
- You can’t find them in the U.S.
- You promise not to sell or promote them.
- You provide a written statement declaring personal use.
- You stick to a three-month supply and share the details of the doctor who prescribed them.
- You aren’t facing reasonable risk by taking them.
Some states have taken matters into their own hands. If you live in Maine, Vermont, or Florida, you can import drugs under state law. But the rules still await the approval of the federal government (the Department of Health and Human Services).
Isn’t It Changing?
Consumers hope so.
There has been talk of easing prescription imports from Canada as prominent party members on both sides of the aisle argue for relaxed measures.
However, Canadian sources say not so fast: it takes two to tango.
Canada worries that large exports could cause drug shortages for Canadians. The Canadian pharmacy system isn’t equipped to deal with a population ten times its size.
There are 37 million people in Canada and 350 million people in the United States. If 20 percent of all U.S. prescriptions were filled in Canada, Canada would suffer depletions in 200 days.
Not only could a colossal export market exacerbate current shortages in Canada, but it could increase prices for everyone, which Canadians believe is unfair. Indeed, policy experts in Canada would prefer that the U.S. import the Canadian use of prescription drug price controls instead of encouraging Americans to rely on Canada for cheap prescriptions.
However, Canada does recognize that personal imports (one person filling a prescription) are different from bulk imports by states or pharmacies.
How to Buy Prescriptions from Canadian Pharmacies
Yes, at present, you can fill your US prescriptions at Canadian pharmacies. You can cross the border or buy form an online pharmacy.
For those of us who don’t live on the Canadian border, an online pharmacy is the preferred option.
However, you should be careful when you buy from online pharmacies.
Here’s how to find an appropriate and safe pharmacy.
1. Start with Your Prescription
Your prescription may have one name in the United States and another name abroad. It is essential to confirm the name of your medicine before you order it.
For example, in the United States, Flomax is the brand name for tamsulosin, which is a prostate medication. However, in Italy, Flomax is the name of morniflumate, which is an anti-inflammatory. These are two completely different drugs.
Make sure that the active ingredient in your U.S. prescription matches the active ingredient sold by the pharmacy.
Additionally, be careful when you order a controlled substance, like narcotics or stimulants, from an online pharmacy. The DEA takes these drugs seriously, and you must be able to provide evidence of your prescription from your doctor in the United States (not a “cyber-doctor”). Buying controlled substances without a prescription comes with a prison sentence.
2. Check the Pharmacy’s References
Many people encounter online pharmacies through prescription drug price comparison tools. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but you should be sure that your pharmacy is both licensed and reputable.
If one pharmacy offers a price substantially lower than other online Canadian pharmacies, you should use your best judgment. The problem has improved over the years, but it is worth noting that when the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy reviewed 8,300 online pharmacies in 2011, it only felt comfortable rating 3 percent of them as legitimate.
While many online pharmacies are legitimate, getting it wrong can have devastating consequences.
Disreputable pharmacies may sell medication from other countries, and you might know the ingredients. This can cause interactions with other medications you’re on or cause your condition to worsen.
Ideally, you live in a state, like Nevada, which provides a list of all vetted Canadian pharmacies. However, even if you don’t, you can use these lists for your research.
Whatever you do, always ask for more information from a pharmacy before you buy.
3. Be Prepared for Customs
Because importing prescriptions is tricky, you will likely deal with customs at some point. Be sure to check out U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s help section before purchasing items from a Canadian pharmacy.
Canadian Prescriptions Save You Money
As the United States increasingly eyes up Canada’s enviable drug prices, the way people buy prescriptions is likely to change. At present, it is ‘sort-of’ legal to purchase medicines from Canadian pharmacies, as long as you have a prescription and only buy for personal use.
However, the situation is fluid, and you do need to be careful about where and what you buy.
Keep reading our blog for more helpful tips and insights.