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How Much Money Can You Really Save Buying Drugs from Canada?

Can people really save money buying drugs from Canada? Is it worth the challenge? Find out about the price discrepancy between U.S. and Canadian pharmacies.
How Much Money Can You Really Save Buying Drugs from Canada?
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Q. I had a severe asthma attack that reduced my ability to breathe. The doctor prescribed Advair and the script was sent to my regular online pharmacy. They called me to ask permission to bill me $857 for the three-month supply. I declined.

I began researching alternate ways of getting this inhaler and ended up using a Canadian pharmacy. The three-month supply cost me $134.

A. Americans pay more for brand name prescription medicines than anyone else in the world. Many countries, like Canada, negotiate drug prices with the manufacturers. The result can be a dramatic price discrepancy, as you discovered. Buying drugs from Canada, though, is a little more complicated than you might imagine.

We must point out that it is illegal for patients to import drugs that are already available in the U.S. That said, the FDA and Customs are uneven in their enforcement of this law. That is why many others have also found that they can save money by buying drugs from Canada as long as they shop at legitimate Canadian pharmacies. Let’s face it, neither the FDA nor U.S. Customs officials want to make headlines prosecuting grandmothers for buying heart or arthritis medicines less expensively in Canada.

If medicine gets confiscated, we are told that most decent online Canadian pharmacies will make good on another package. We are not advocating breaking the law, but we do want people to understand what’s going on and the incredible price differential between branded medicines sold in the U.S. vs. the identical branded medicines sold through online Canadian pharmacies.

Lynne shared this story about buying drugs from Canada:

“Multiple sclerosis medicines are around $5,000 per month. The pharmaceutical companies assist if you have insurance. Not sure how they help the uninsured. Same medications are less than half the cost in Canada.

U.S. healthcare is a train wreck.”

Generics Are Often Cheaper at Home

We would caution that it makes little sense to shop for generic drugs abroad. The U.S. has about the least expensive generic drugs in the world. That is largely because most of the generics are made in countries like China, India, Thailand or Slovakia.

Prices at Online Canadian Pharmacies vs. in the U.S.

Here are a few examples of price discrepancies:

Celebrex 200 mg (30 pills) from Canada = $61 to $83

Celebrex 200 mg (30 pills) from U.S. = $273 to $277

Lanoxin 0.125 mg (100 pills) from Canada = $40 to $50

Lanoxin 0.125 mg (100 pills) from U.S. = $750 to $850

Symbicort 160 4.5 mcg from Canada = $60

Symbicort 160 4.5 mcg from U.S. = $203 to $206

Crestor 10 mg (30 pills) from Canada = $52 to $62

Crestor 10 mg (30 pills) from U.S. = $235 to $238

Of course prices can vary both in the U.S. as well as at online Canadian pharmacies. Keep in mind, though, that these are brand-name medicines that in theory were all made in similar brand-name manufacturing plants.

Are all online Canadian Pharmacies Really in Canada?

Not all online pharmacies that claim to be Canadian really are. Just because a website says “Canadian” does not make it so. There are way too many counterfeiters and unscrupulous websites out there that can take advantage of unsuspecting customers. So we must emphasize that buying drugs from Canada is not as easy as searching and then clicking on a so-called Canadian pharmacy website.

To help you better understand this confusing situation, you may wish to download our Guide to Saving Money on Medicine with far more details about drug prices and online shopping ($2.00). You will also learn about the pros and cons of generic drugs and our “10 Tips for Saving Money on Medicine.”

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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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