Every year Millions of Americans year purchase prescription medications from online pharmacies outside the U.S. to save money, even though it's illegal. Buying prescription drugs online can be dangerous if you are not careful where you buy them.
The cost of life-saving drugs can be prohibitive in America. Some drugs cost many times more than what people from other countries pay for the same drugs.
♦ It has been estimated at 35 million Americans don’t fill their prescriptions, cut their pills in half or don’t take the recommended amounts simply because they cannot afford to do so.
Online pharmacies operating outside of the U.S. can offer some very significant savings. However, they also pose the greatest risk for running into counterfeit drugs.
♦ Buying drugs from internet pharmacies that do not provide a street address and telephone number may pose serious health risks. You have no way of knowing where these companies are located, where they get their drugs, what is in their drugs, or how to reach them if there is a problem.
Buying drugs on the internet may also pose financial risks. In some cases, the product may not be shipped at all, or if it is coming from another country, it could be stopped at the border by customs authorities. Still, nearly 20 million Americans purchase prescription drugs from overseas.
♦ Technically, it’s illegal to import prescription drugs from Canada, but many Americans do it anyway because of the government's unofficial "non-enforcement policy" for personal imports (90-day supply). But there may be a reason to believe the FDA under the Trump administration will take a harder stand on this.
Kaiser Health News reported in October 2017, FDA agents raided nine stores in Florida for helping obtain prescriptions from Canada. According to the store’s owner they were not selling or receiving drugs, just helping older patients fill legitimate prescriptions online.
• Most online pharmacies offer drugs much cheaper than retail. A simple Google search will return hundreds of internet pharmacies.
♦ The vast majority of illegal online pharmacies that sell to Americans give the appearance of being Canadian when they are not. This is because Canada is known for its safe and inexpensive prescription medicines. Knowing which pharmacies are legitimate requires some effort.
Big pharma conspiracy
There are numerous theories that pharmaceutical companies are sinister and only care about generating more profits.
♦ For years, pharmaceutical companies have opposed efforts to make it easier for Americans to import cheaper prescription drugs for personal use. To that end, they have promoted and in some cases financed the creation of online pharmacy watchdogs.
The organization called the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) was setup with the primary goal of controlling the story. It includes the world’s largest drug manufactures. It has a number of other members including the online shopping monitor LegitScript, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
ASOP pushed industry ideas to the Obama administration. In the end, the White House accepted most of their ideas and agreed to put in place rules to limit access to online pharmacies.
• The Obama administration agreed with the creation of a separate entity to be known as the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP). It would be a non-profit organization incorporating what ASOP and the pharmaceutical industry had wanted. It would be a form of gatekeeper.
The plan was that internet companies such as Google, domain registrars, and credit card companies would be called upon to voluntarily crackdown on online pharmacies which did not have a license in the U.S. Electronic payments would be denied and websites shutdown.
Domain registrars would help shutdown rogue pharmacy sites. Credit card companies would deny payments to online pharmacies that were not verified by companies like LegitScript or were flagged by manufacturers.
Search engines would no longer run online pharmacy ads, including from legitimate overseas pharmacies.
ASOP is also reported to have paid a consulting firm $675,000, most of which went to oppose Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) bill to legalize personal prescription imports.
♦ Conspiracy theories aside, pharmaceutical manufacturers do have legitimate concerns about counterfeit drugs. Their efforts to shut down all overseas pharmacies, legitimate along with rogue websites, does give the appearance that their primary goal is to protect profits.
Use caution when purchasing drugs on the internet. As a rule, do not purchase medications from unlicensed online distributors or those who sell medications without a prescription.
Several organizations have sprung up to try to direct consumers to legitimate online pharmacies. The prominent sites focus on U.S. pharmacies and discourage international pharmacies.
♦ The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) hosts a site which they call Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS). VIPPS dates back to 1999.
NABP provides a VIPPS seal of approval to sites that have gone through their verification process and paid them some hefty fees.
♦ If you want to dig a little deeper, it is possible to check a pharmacy’s license through your state board of pharmacy (or equivalent state agency). The FDA maintains a list of states that have a searchable database for licensed pharmacies.
♦ The site Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) came into being in 2011. It has a section called Verify Before You Buy. They allow for search by web address. It relies upon LegitScript.
♦ PharmacyChecker is a site that has been around since 2003. It does not appear to be associated with credit card companies or pharmaceutical companies. It has been featured by a number of large news organizations.
PharmacyChecker claims to provide a listing of verified and licensed pharmacies in Canada, the U.S., and other countries. It also includes pet pharmacies. The site has an interesting prescription price check feature also.
They claim they put sites through their verification process before they provide the pharmacy their PharmacyChecker seal of approval. They also say they do some onsite inspections and have some purchases analyzed to confirm drug accuracy.
In Canada, there is a similar accrediting organization called Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA). It was founded in 2002. It is a Canadian association of licensed retail pharmacies.
You can search by pharmacy name. There are currently 69 accredited pharmacies listed. A complete list can be found here.
Canadian pharmacies often times sell an identical drug for much less than U.S. pharmacies. This has a lot to do with price controls. Canada's government sets the prices for all patented drugs, while in the U.S. pharmaceutical companies charge as much as the market will bear and until consumers cry foul.
♦ Most Canadian pharmacies are blocked from accepting VISA and MasterCard. A few take American Express and almost all take checks.
In July, the White House announced that HHS Secretary Alex Azar will be setting up a group to studying the safe importation of prescription drugs from foreign sources.
♦ During Alex Azar’s confirmation hearing to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked Mr. Azar if he considered drugs from regulated pharmacies in Europe to be unsafe. Mr. Azar (former president of pharma giant E.I. Lilly USA) refused to say.
• Most experts do not expect much to come out of Mr. Azar’s study group.
Consumer groups will continue to press for freedom to import legally, while pharmaceutical companies will continue work to prevent this.
As drug prices continue to soar and insurers pass more costs back to the patient, tens of millions of generally law-abiding Americans will have no choice but to commit an illegal act in response.
Buy prescriptions outside the U.S. and imported them.