Prescription for Trouble?
Despite being illegal, more Americans combat high prescription drug costs by buying abroad.
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
Still, McGinnis admits there isn't a single documented case of
an American killed by prescription drugs bought from licensed Canadian
pharmacies, a finding echoed by Health Canada, which regulates the country's
"Unless you walk into the store, you really don't know if
it's really a licensed pharmacy," McGinnis tells WebMD, adding that such
information would be hard to track. "We've had consumers complain to us
that they thought they were ordering from a Canadian web site -- it had a maple
leaf -- and the package was postmarked that it came from India, and the product
inside was manufactured in India. We really worry about drugs from
The majority of drugs sold in state-licensed American
pharmacies are manufactured in Puerto Rico, with backup facilities in the U.S.
and elsewhere, says McGinnis. "The FDA goes to these manufacturing
facilities, no matter where it is in world, and inspects it to make sure
there's the right active ingredients and right equipment to make the product.
We monitor the shipment and storage, we monitor the product from warehouse to
pharmacy. We're comfortable with products sold in the U.S."
City Finds a Way
Michael Albano, the mayor of Springfield, Mass., says he feels
the same way about the insulin he buys for his diabetic son and the other drugs
purchased for his 2,200 current and retired municipal employees. His city is
the nation's first to initiate a program for municipal employees to buy
prescription drugs from Canada. They fax or mail prescriptions and the products
are sent to their homes. Boston recently announced it would begin a similar
city-run program in coming months, and politicians in other states, including
most recently Illinois, are considering the same.