The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can You Save Money by Importing Drugs from Canada?

The government has recently done an about-face on importing drugs from Canada. For years we were were told this is a terrible idea. Maybe now it will be OK.
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The Trump administration made headlines recently when it announced a plan to allow the importation of drugs from Canada. The stated goal was to save patients money. Alex Azar, head of Health and Human Services (HHS) made this clear (July 31, 2019)“Today’s announcement outlines the pathways the Administration intends to explore to allow safe importation of certain prescription drugs to lower prices and reduce out of pocket costs for American patients.” Until now, importing drugs from Canada was illegal!

Who, What, When and Where?

What was lost in translation were the nuts and bolts of this proposal. More relevant to patients is the overlooked point that this is about states, wholesalers and pharmacies importing drugs from Canada.

We could find nothing in the plan about ordinary citizens importing drugs from Canada! That has led to confusion. This reader wants to know what’s going on.

Importing Drugs from Canada is NOT New:

Q. I just heard on the news that the FDA will allow drugs to be imported from Canada. When I had no drug coverage for 10 years (between 1996 and 2006), I bought my medications from Canada with no problems. What has changed?

A. It is technically illegal for individuals to purchase their medications from Canada. As far as we can tell, though, neither the FDA nor customs officials are arresting people who buy blood pressure pills, arthritis medicine or antidepressants from Canada.

The New Plan:

The administration’s new “Safe Importation Action Plan” does not appear to apply to individual patients. It is focused on much larger organizations.

States have been trying to save money on medicines for years. Prescription prices have been budget busters for state employees and Medicaid patients.

Take Florida, for example. Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, wants to save money for his state. He and his colleagues came up with a plan that includes importing drugs from Canada at lower costs. That would be illegal under existing law. But Governor DeSantis and President Trump are buddies. That may have influenced Alex Azar at HHS.

According to HHS, it is now contemplating just such a plan. But please do not hold your breath. It can take years for the federal bureaucracy to approve plans like the one that has been proposed by Alex Azar.

You can read more about importing drugs from Canada at this link:

Is It Now Legal To Import Drugs from Canada?

Readers Respond to the idea of Importing Drugs from Canada:

Ron is a skeptic:

“Unfortunately, this is just another shiny object being sold to people who are going broke by being sick in America. Canada does not manufacture these drugs. They import them from America [and other countries]. So, the government’s answer to lowering the price of drugs is to have them shipped to Canada then reshipped to the USA. Are Americans buying this?”

Sally is Mad as Hell:

“I know many seniors who have been getting their much needed, more AFFORDABLE, daily drugs from Canada for many years. They are alive and well and much better healthwise for it! If they had to rely on Pharma greed and scare tactics, they would not be so well.

“I am sick of the greed. I know what it’s like to fight with insurance companies about drug formularies and tier cost reductions. I was prescribed a needed medicine. It is listed as tier 6 (yes, tier SIX) for $1,800.00 for a 30 day supply. Seniors attempting to survive on their monthly S.S. checks, can NOT afford this outrageous cost.

“I, along with millions of others, will seek out my needed meds from the country that does not price gouge and is the most AFFORDABLE for me. It is disgusting to have to make choices of healthy eating, paying bills/rent, etc. OR buying your expensive needed drugs.”

Norma in Missouri offers this action plan:

“I have had excellent service from a Canadian pharmacy. When all the recalls of valsartan occurred [because of carcinogen contamination], I decided to order the brand name drug Diovan. It turns out the cost of Diovan was less than half the generic.

“Interesting too, the manufacturer has been in Turkey, Spain or Australia but then shipped from Singapore with no postage or other fees.

“Why take the round-about action of waiting for the government to allow importing drugs from Canada? Go to the source directly and negotiate a good price from the manufacturer! Drug companies will object and say they need the research funds ,but they can eliminate all the expensive TV advertising to save money.”

You can read about reliable Canadian pharmacies in our eGuide to Saving Money on Medicine along with other tips about using generic drug wisely. Share your own experience and thoughts about importing drugs from Canada.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    I find it troubling that the focus seems ever and only to be on the COST of drugs. Personally, I find that the real “elephant in the room” is the all-pervasive idea that everyone should be on numerous prescriptions for any number of diseases (real or made up by the”research experts” at big pharma). Perhaps we should re-think the pervasive idea that being human is a disease process that needs to be aggressively controlled chemically. Perhaps we’d all be far better off with lifestyle coaching rather than a pill for every occasion. I’ve seen drugs advertised on TV that you should “ask your doctor about,” and the alleged purpose of the drug is never clearly stated.

    As a Canadian living with the benefit of a publicly-funded health care system I am constantly horrified by the plight of U.S. citizens struggling to pay for essential health care. But I am also very worried about the potential impact of Canada’s limited drug supply being drained by U.S. demand. It’s not hard to imagine the crisis that may follow from the U.S. population–10 times larger than Canada’s–having full access to the already-limited supply here.

    I can buy the name brand of my prescription from Canada for less than my co-pay for the generic in the US. I’m on Medicare, so I’m saving the taxpayer money by buying from Canada! You’re welcome.

    Canadian Pharmacies, those with the proper licenses, are as ethical as American Stores. Usually the Canadian Pharmacy will tell you the origin of the generic they are dispensing. No problems if you use due diligence. As a pharmacist, retired, I would not hesitate to get the lower price. Particularly egregious is the fact that the price of identical products from the identical manufacturer are less expensive in Canada.

    I have been ordering Synthroid from a Canadian pharmacy for years. It is 1/3 the price or less. I also ordered a drug called Elmiron from Canada for years at a substantially lower price. It is so expensive in the states that it would have really effected our budget. My docs actually send the prescription to the pharmacies.

    In my experience there is no reason to buy expensive drugs in the US.
    My son-in-law just bought his Epipens in England for $9.

    Greed in the US is unbelievable. Everyone needs to make a profit but it is out of control here. The CEO of Anthem Blue Cross makes many millions a year. The insurance and pharmaceutical companies spend billions a year on advertising and lobbying. Why is the lobbying even legal.

    Sorry for the rant but our system is leaving people out and changing lives for the worse. Isn’t that costing society more money in the end?

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^