Drugs for most medical conditions are very costly. Today the cost spent on pharmaceutical agents is $307 billion per year or $728 for every American is spent each year on medications. (I am sure this is much higher for seniors who take much more medication than younger individuals.) The Medicare “donut hole”, or the failure of Medicare to pay for prescription drugs after the government has paid several thousand dollars, leaves many seniors without coverage for expensive medications for weeks or months at a time. Consequently, many seniors are going without medications or are looking to online foreign sources, i.e., Canada, Mexico, India, and China for their prescription medications. This article will discuss the caveats and pitfalls for buying prescription medications online.
I am frequently asked by patients how to buy less expensive medications including is it safe to buy medications online from another country.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opposes foreign drug purchases, warning that these sales pose serious safety problems. While importing Canadian medications is against U.S. policy, the FDA has said that it will not prosecute individuals who import small amounts (three months or less) for personal use. If you are considering ordering medications from Canada, remember that the FDA cannot guarantee the safety of those medications. The FDA’s concerns include:
Medications that have not been approved for sale in the United States may not have been manufactured under quality assurance procedures designed to produce a safe and effective product.
Some imported medications — even those that have the name of a product approved in the United States — may, in fact, be counterfeit versions that are unsafe or ineffective.
Some imported medications and their ingredients, although legal in foreign countries, may not have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness in the United States. These medications may be addictive or contain other dangerous substances.
Some medications are unsafe when taken without adequate medical supervision. You may need a medical evaluation to ensure that the medication is appropriate for you and your condition. Or you may require medical checkups to make sure that you are taking the medication properly, to assess whether it is working for you, and to check for unexpected or life-threatening side effects.
The medication’s label, including instructions for use and possible side effects, may be in a language you do not understand and may make medical claims or suggest specific uses that have not been adequately evaluated for safety and effectiveness.
An imported medication may not have information that would allow you to be treated promptly and correctly for a dangerous side effect caused by the medications.
The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), the leading non-profit, non-partisan membership organization for people aged 50 years and over in the United States, does not encourage Americans to break the present drug importation law. But with an estimated two million Americans already buying prescription medications from Canada and other countries, AARP has come up with guidelines to help consumers minimize their risk and ensure that the medications they receive are the ones their doctors have prescribed. AARP recommends that you pick an online pharmacy that:
If you are buying drugs from Canada, look for the displays the seals of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA; see http://www.ciparx.ca/) or Internet and Mail-Order Pharmacy Accreditation Commission (IMPAC; see http://www.impacsurvey.org/). These organizations set standards for safety and service among Canadian mail-order pharmacies that sell to Americans. Those that meet the standards receive accreditation.
Requires a prescription for medication from your doctor. Reputable pharmacies may allow you to fax in a prescription but will then either confirm the prescription by a phone call to your doctor’s office or wait until they receive the original prescription in the mail before filling your order.
Expect that the pharmacy requires you to submit details of your medical history and clearly states the pharmacy’s policies for ensuring medical and personal privacy.
It is probably best to have taken a medication for at least one month before you order by mail so that you and your doctor know the medication is working and is safe for you.
Provides a full mailing address and a toll-free phone number on its website so that you can call and speak to a pharmacist to ask any questions you may have.
Displays on its website full information about shipping fees, payment policies, and refunds. Reputable pharmacies offer secure (encrypted) online payment for credit cards, alternative options for payment (such as electronic fund transfers and regular checks), and do not charge any separate fees except for shipping.
Charges the cost of the medications to your credit card only when the drugs are shipped, not when the order is first placed. An honest pharmacy refunds your money or reships medications immediately if your order does not arrive.
Bottom Line: If you’re wondering where to start looking for pharmacies online, visit http://www.pharmacychecker.com, a website run by an independent American consumer research group that provides ratings and price comparisons for more than 40 online pharmacies based mainly in the United States and Canada. This site rates them on a scale of 1–5 and notes whether a pharmacy is licensed, requires a prescription, provides its address and phone number, and offers personal privacy and payment security. The site compares prices for more than 1,000 drugs at these pharmacies and gives details on shipping fees and delivery times. Buying medication online is slight risk. However, if you follow these guidelines, you may be able to achieve considerable savings for those expensive medications.