Prescription for Trouble?
Despite being illegal, more Americans combat high prescription drug costs by buying abroad.
Concerns About Safety continued...
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.
"In six months of operation, our city has already saved $1
million in employee drug costs, and we believe we can save $4-$9 million a year
in the future," Albano tells WebMD. "This was primarily done as a
cost-savings measure, and it's working out great. There have been no complaints
(about drug quality) from anyone and we're all very happy."
But the FDA is investigating CanaRx, the supplier to Albano's
Springfield Meds program, and recently persuaded a federal judge to shut down
Canadian prescription drug sellers operating within the U.S. -- sometimes in
strips malls or other storefronts.
"Many products are cheaper in Canada and elsewhere, but
there are laws in effect and breaking the law shouldn't be an option,"
McGinnis says. "I can also save money getting my automobile from Canada,
but that doesn't mean it would have the EPA controls that we require."
Yet he tells WebMD that border police have been instructed
not to arrest citizens making personal-use prescription drug buys
elsewhere. "It's the commercial entities making money off these illegal
operations we're after."