She's a 70-year-old grandmother and retired hospital social
worker who requests anonymity because earlier this year, she committed the
first crime in her life: She had drugs smuggled in from Colombia. Not cocaine
or marijuana, but Lamisil tablets to treat a stubborn toenail fungus.
"At my local pharmacy, it cost more than $7 a pill -- and I
needed a three-month supply," she tells WebMD. "I can't afford that, so
I wrote to a friend who lives in Colombia. The same prescription that cost $440
at the Target pharmacy cost $180 down there. And when she mailed it to me, it
came in the same bottle that my pharmacist had.
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"It's a sin what they're doing to us here," she says
with a sigh.
That "sin" is the inability to cover the cost of their
prescription drugs in the U.S., prompting growing numbers of Americans -- and
in particular, seniors like her -- to get their medications outside of our
Canada is the most popular destination, where many brand-name
prescription drugs cost up to 80% less than in America -- and from where this
suburban Philadelphia granny now gets her TriCor, a medication to lower
"I have a PPO drug plan, but it only covers generics. If I
need a brand-name drug, I have to pay for it out-of-pocket. Neither Lamisil nor
TriCor has a generic equivalent covered by my insurance. And TriCor costs half
as much in Canada as it costs here -- almost $100 less per
She recently learned of the Canadian pharmacy from a friend,
who buys her own prescription drugs there at the advice of her son -- a doctor.
Both mail their prescriptions northward and the drugs are mailed back to them.
"I took it to my doctor after getting it and he said it was the same drug
that is manufactured and sold here."
And that's why, technically, she's a criminal: Federal law
prohibits the "reimport" of U.S. drugs by anyone other than the
The authorities aren't about to arrest her -- officials
acknowledge this is illegal activity but say they won't act on individual
citizens who are securing prescription drugs for their personal use. However,
there is concern about growing numbers of these "border buys," which
especially came to light in 2003.
Concerns About Safety
"Our specific concern is that we don't know what consumers
are getting, like we do when products are purchased from state-licensed
pharmacies in the U.S.," says Thomas McGinnis, PharmD, FDA director of
pharmacy affairs. "If you're going to order medications from outside the
U.S., you may get the same thing as what's at your local pharmacy, but you may
not. It's a 'buyer beware' situation. We're concerned about the safety of these