Let's make this very clear. It's absolutely, unequivocally, without question
illegal to reimport into the U.S. prescription drugs that have been exported to
other countries, or to bring in substances that are banned under U.S. law, for
any reason, except when you've got a prescription and the FDA or customs agents
say it's OK, or decide to look the other way.
Some people are able to split their pills in half in order to save money on prescription drugs. If your doctor can double your normal dose, and you split the pills, you can get two-month supply of medicine for the price of one.
But many medications cannot be split safely. The FDA has issued warnings about the risks. So have professional societies representing pharmacists and doctors. This article looks at when pill splitting is safe, and when it’s not.
The old adage that "those who love the law and sausages should never
watch either one being made" certainly applies to drug policy. But neither
the FDA nor the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are necessarily to blame
for the confusion.
Burdened by skyrocketing health care costs, consumers, employers, and
insurers are looking for ways to save, and one of the most obvious targets is
drug costs. Because Canada and most other industrialized nations impose price
restrictions and limit what pharmacies can charge for drugs, the cost of a
brand-name medication sold in Toronto can be as much as 55% less than what the
identical drug is sold for just across Lake Ontario in Rochester, N.Y.
While the practice of reimporting drugs from Canada, Mexico, or other
countries is still technically illegal (with the possible exceptions noted
below), it is increasingly becoming a custom more honored in the breach than in
the observance. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed three versions of
bills that would allow consumers to import legal drugs for personal use. A
similar measure, known as the Dorgan-Snowe Drug Importation bill, is currently
before the Senate.
In the meantime, the mission of the FDA, as always, is to promote and
protect the health of Americans. The mission of the U.S. Customs service is to
enforce Federal laws and regulations as they pertain to imported substances
such as drugs. And here's where the law gets kind of squishy.
Current law says that if Granny decides she can get her heart medications
more cheaply in Alberta than in Alabama, she could be busted for either
bringing it over the border or having it delivered to her. Does that mean that
dear Granny is likely to do a stretch in solitary? Hardly, experts say, because
nobody wants to be seen putting the cuffs on elderly pensioners. Also, they'd
have to arrest the governments of the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois,
Vermont, as well as many city governments and private employers who have turned
north for lower-cost prescription drugs.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
When it comes to the importation of drugs from foreign countries, the FDA
acts a bit like Captain Renault in Casablanca who tells Rick that
"I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in
here!" as he gambles in Rick's club.