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Dos and Don’ts of Importing Medications from Canada

Health & Gender Policy Brief #141 | By: S. Bhimji | November 21, 2021

Header photo taken from: Healthline

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Photo taken from: Kaiser Health News

Policy Summary

There is no question that prescription medications are expensive in the US and each year the prices keep on going up. Some Americans visit Mexico to buy their prescription medications but the problem is that the quality of Mexican products is often not guaranteed.

For the past decade, many Americans have been discreetly importing their medications from Canada; using a third party like Canada Med Services that is based in Sarasota, Fl, or purchasing directly from online Canadian companies like The Canadian Pharmacy or Canada Drugs online. In several states, the FDA has allowed  companies that help import prescription medications for personal use to continue operating. 

But the question remains, ‘is drug importation legal?’

Policy Analysis

The first thing to be aware of is that wholesale importation of medications from Canada or anywhere else is forbidden by law. However, when it comes to personal use, US laws are not clear and it all depends on where you live and how the customs officers act. In most cases, customs officers let medications for personal use enter the US as long as they are not potent pain pills, prescription sleeping pills, or other drugs deemed to be harmful to the user. Plus, the drug must be approved for use in the US. 

Any drug that the FDA cannot ensure its safety or effectiveness cannot be imported. In some cases, the customs officer will ask the user if he or she has a healthcare provider’s prescription or a letter detailing the medical condition and the reason for treatment.

Overall, there are very few cases where prescription drugs for personal use have been seized by customs. However, the quantity cannot exceed more than 3 months supply.

But while all this sounds great, there are a few caveats. First, not all Canadian drugs are cheaper than US products, and secondly, there have been many reported cases of fake and counterfeit drugs being sold by non-verified Canadian websites. Over the past 2 decades, the US government has shut down at least a dozen Canadian online sites that were selling medications considered to be fake.

Photo taken from: WBUR

Third, in most cases, you will need to pay cash or wire the money; Canadian companies do not accept American insurance; fourth if you buy medications from Canada they may not be covered by your American health insurance- so all expenses are out of pocket.

Why American prescription medications are more expensive than almost all other nations is mainly due to lack of regulation and extreme lobbying by Big Pharma. The price is usually set by the manufacturers without any input from the government or other national body. There is no official negotiating agency set by the government that can determine fair pricing. 

Because the entire Pharmaceutical industry in the USA is solely focused on huge profits, more Americans are now turning to the importation of their medications from Canada. For Americans who are struggling with the high cost of prescription medications, they have two choices- elect  leaders who vow to do something about drug pricing or get your medications from Canada.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act

https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/2181?s=1&r=3

10 FAQs on Prescription Drug Importation

10 FAQs on Prescription Drug Importation

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