Canada Drugs - To Buy or Not to Buy?

Warnings Issued About the Reimportation of Canada Drugs

Canada drugs
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It's an often stated fact - prescription drugs are expensive - and that surely includes arthritis medications. The elderly, disabled, and people on fixed incomes are saddled with the burden of constantly searching for more affordable drugs.

But for many, it's still not enough help. It's a crisis if you need drugs and are not able to afford them. It has driven many people to look outside the United States for solutions, with cheaper Canada drugs a possible solution.

Canada Drug Cost Survey

More than a decade ago, the AARP reported on a Canada drug cost survey conducted by the office of Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York. The Canada drug cost survey was released as part of the senator's effort to get a bill passed. The bill would have given U.S. consumers, pharmacists, and wholesalers the ability to access drugs from Canada and possibly other foreign countries. The survey of 120 pharmacies across New York, 8 of which were in Buffalo, revealed a substantial difference in cost if prescription drugs were filled in Canada rather than the United States.

Warnings Issued About Canada Drugs

Around the same time the aforementioned survey was released, the FDA issued a warning to the office of the attorney general of the state of California.

The warning came after California requested the FDA's opinion regarding the purchase of lower-cost drugs from Canada for the public employee's health program in order to save money. The FDA, with no uncertainty, stated that cities and states should not encourage people to buy drugs from other countries such as Canada, and should not look at importing drugs as a solution to relieving their own budget problems.

Drug Standards and Regulations Vary

Drug standards and regulations vary from country to country. The FDA is responsible only for drugs marketed and sold inside the United States. The FDA's closed distribution system allows them to maintain high standards for the manufacturing and distribution of drugs. Once consumers go outside that system, by either physically crossing the border to purchase drugs in another country or by using Internet pharmacies which are set up to serve as foreign store fronts, the FDA warns there may be potential health risks. The FDA has several concerns about imported drugs including:

  • quality assurance concerns
  • counterfeit potential
  • presence of untested substances
  • risk of unsupervised use
  • labeling and language issues
  • lack of information

The NABP (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy) released their Position Paper on the Importation of Foreign Prescription Drugs which detailed the scope of the problem based on FDA/U.S. Customs Service Studies. The NABP concluded that once patients and consumers go outside the U.S. regulatory system, they become vulnerable and put themselves at risk. To say the least, it's a case of "buyer beware". However, "awareness" cannot even protect against the hidden danger of possibly receiving:

  • expired drugs
  • contaminated pills
  • subpotent or superpotent strengths
  • counterfeit drugs

The Bottom Line

Strong protections must be put in place so safety is not compromised. Once outside the U.S., those protections are not in place.  Here's what the FDA has to say: Imported Drugs Raise Safety Concerns.

If you are still interested in purchasing from a Canadian pharmacy, you are advised to be certain they are certified by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA).


Drug Importation. FDA. Last Updated 6/29/2009.

Drugs From Canada?, AARP Bulletin, September 2003

NABP, Position Paper on the Importation of Foreign Prescription Drugs, March 2003

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