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50+: Live Better, Longer

Buying Drugs Across the Border

Discount pharmacies line the borders. But do these drugs meet U.S. standards? Read this before you cross the line.
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Good Neighbor Policy continued...

"If a drug is made in Canada and only intended for export, not for domestic use, there are different regulations that are applied," says Joel Lexchin, MD, associate professor in the School of Health Policy and Management at York University in Toronto, Ontario. But Lexchin says that should not be a concern to American consumers. "As far as I know, everything that's being purchased by Americans is also being used by Canadians, so that sort of the thing is just not an issue."

Indeed, Jirina Vlk, a spokesperson for Health Canada, tells WebMD that in many cases the Canadian regulations may be more stringent than those of the U.S. For example, the antidepressant Prozac is approved for use in children under the age of 18 in the U.S., but not in Canada, so the Canadian product will contain warnings about using the drug in children.

Lexchin points out that the chemicals used to make drugs in both Canada and the U.S. may come from many different countries. "When you buy a drug in the United States that is supposedly manufactured in the United States, it may have been tableted or made into a cream there, but the ingredients that are in there may have come from a variety of different countries, and the FDA does not consider that those are unsafe."

And he has an answer for people who seek relief from high prescription drug prices from foreign sources. "The secret to American drug prices is not to be importing from Canada or New Zealand or Australia. The solution is for you guys to decide that you want to do something about your drug prices."

Gail Shearer from Consumers Union agrees:

"We have failed abysmally at finding a way to make drugs affordable to our population, and it's time to just think a little bit more creatively," she tells WebMD. "Yes, I think there are win-win scenarios that could benefit consumers without destroying drug companies, but for too long the discussion has been dominated by special interests. It's time to address these policies in a systematic way and find a way to make drugs affordable for everybody."

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Reviewed on September 15, 2004

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