A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted 2016 found that about 19 million American adults imported drugs from other countries at some point. With increasing prices for prescription medications in the U. S., many people are looking for other options.
Internet pharmacies offer options to buy drugs with a physician’s prescription from other countries. This raises many questions. Is this legal and safe.
Is It Legal to Buy Prescription Drugs on the Internet?
According to U. S. federal law, unless you manufacture a medication, you aren’t allowed to import it from other countries. This law means that individuals may not buy medications in other countries and bring them back to the U.S.
The Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA), however, issued a “9999” guidance for people buying medications and agents enforcing the law. This states that you can import a 90-day supply of certain prescription medications and medical devices.
This guidance requires that the following conditions be met:
- The medication isn’t used to treat serious conditions and there are no significant risks
- The medication is used to treat a serious condition and there is no effective treatment available to the individual in the U.S.
- You will not sell or promote the medication to others in the U.S.
- The medication purchased does not present an unreasonable risk
- You must affirm in writing that the medication will only be for personal use
- The largest quantity purchased must not exceed a three-month supply
- You must give the name and address of the licensed, prescribing physician
- Or, you must give evidence that the medication is a continuation of treatment started in a foreign country
If you plan to buy medications from another country, be sure that you meet all these requirements.
FDA Personal Importation Rule
What does personal importation mean? According to the FDA, this pertains to products not meant for further sale or distribution in the U.S. These items can be carried in luggage or mailed internationally.
There are some circumstances under which the FDA can refuse personal importation. This includes:
- Products included in an FDA import alert list due to previous violations
- Shipments deemed for commercial distribution
- Products reasonably determined to present a serious health risk
- FDA-related articles appearing to involve health fraud
What Is Drug Re-Importation?
The definition of drug re-importation can be confusing. Drug re-importation involves several components.
- The prescription medication was first manufactured in the U.S.
- The medication was then exported to another country by the manufacturer
- An individual or group purchases the medication in a foreign country
- This individual or group then imports it back to the US.
Some Americans re-import medication for their own personal use. They fill their prescriptions in Canadian or Mexican pharmacies. They may do this in person, by mail-order, or via the internet.
Re-importation follows the same legal rules as importing medications discussed. You may not promote or sell these products to others.
What if my prescription is a controlled substance? The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) rules individually concerning importations of controlled substances. Contact the DEA to learn more about your personal situation.
What Safety Measures Should You Take When You Buy Drugs?
Since the FDA only has oversight for medication made in the U.S., it cannot provide guarantees about foreign drugs. This means that you have no protection to ensure that the drugs you buy in foreign countries are safe.
This leads to several safety concerns:
- Where was the medication originally manufactured?
- What were the manufacturing conditions?
- What have the storage conditions been?
- Does the medication contain what is on the label?
- Does the medication contain other substances not described on the label?
- Is the dose of the medication true to the label?
- Is the medication expired?
- Is the individual taking the medication under the supervision of a healthcare provider?
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) released a position paper concerning the importation of medications from foreign countries. They recognize that consumers may face risks associated with foreign medications.
Yet, they also acknowledge that consumers face risks from not taking medications as ordered or at all due to financial concerns. ”The AARP supports policies that will ensure confidence in the safety and integrity of re-imported drugs…”
The AARP recommends that consumers restrict their re-importation to licensed Canadian Pharmacies and wholesalers. Beware of online pharmacies masquerading as a Canadian pharmacy.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy conducted a 20-year research project looking at “Canadian” online pharmacies. They found that U.S. consumers often didn’t get Health-Canada-approved products when buying from online pharmacies.
They often came from India, Turkey, or Southeast Asia. There are concerns that these medications are substandard or unsafe.
So, how do you know if you have found a safe company? Look carefully at their site for a way to check their certification.
For example, there should be a place to verify their CIPA certification or Pharmacy Checker certification. Click on those links to find out more.
Do You Save Money at Internet Pharmacy Sites?
Many people wonder if you can save money using foreign internet pharmacies. Be sure to compare the price of generic medications in the U.S. to prices at the online pharmacy. You also need to check on the shipping cost from other countries.
When comparing prices, make sure you convert the cost to U.S. dollars. Most foreign pharmacies quote prices in their currency value. Currencies change every day, so check the price at the time you are making the purchase.
You may wish to use the currency converter to help you determine the correct price in U.S. dollars. The cost savings depends on what medication you are purchasing. As in the U.S., medication costs vary on foreign sites as well.
What Questions Should I Ask?
Always approach online pharmaceutical purchases with caution. Be sure to ask and verify the following questions.
- What is the name and address of the manufacturer?
- What is the expiration date on the medication?
- What is the U.S. dollar price?
- What is the shipping charge?
- Are there additional charges?
- Is the medication label written in English?
- Does the medication come with written instructions in English?
- How is my personal and medical identity protected?
- Is the pharmacy licensed?
Visit the following sites to verify that the pharmacy is legitimate:
- The Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice (VIPPS) Site verifies that the pharmacy is licensed in Canada
- Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) site
- Pharmacy Checker reviews Canadian and other foreign pharmacies that sell online
Practicing your due diligence will pay off. This will help ensure that you receive safe and effective medications.
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