Buying and Ordering from Canada

by Christina Medvescek on September 1, 2003 - 11:17am

Editor's note: Upon review in 2010, we learned that both DiscountDrugsDepot.com and TwoNationsRx.com had ceased operations. Though they're no longer around, it is possible to find other sites, such as CanadaDrugs.com, offering similar services through an Internet search. Be sure to read the "Warnings and guidelines" section below for tips on selecting an online pharmacy.

General information

Brand name, U.S.-made, FDA-approved medications are sold abroad for far less than in the United States, meaning consumers can save a lot of money by buying back U.S. drugs from foreign sources over the Internet. There are two big concerns — safety and legality — and no clear-cut answers on either score.

Safety standards vary widely when you're roaming the world drug market. By the time a U.S.-made medication ends up on a Thai Web site, for instance, it could be just fine or expired, mislabeled, contaminated or counterfeit. In addition, export versions of some U.S.-manufactured drugs are made to different standards or in different dosages than the requirements for domestic consumption.

Canada, with a prescription regulatory system similar to this country's, has become the drugstore of choice for many Yanks — over a million last year. Due to Canadian price regulations and the strong buying power of the U.S. dollar, consumers save from 30 percent to 90 percent on brand name drugs. (Generic drugs usually are cheaper to buy in the United States, however. A generic here averages about 74 percent less than the brand name drug, versus only 38 percent less in Canada, according to a report by Forbes magazine.)

There's no safety reason not to buy from accredited Canadian pharmacies, says Greg Carter, director of MDA's clinic at the University of Washington in Seattle. "They're the same damn drugs!"

Canada has a rigorous review system for both imported and exported drugs, "and one of the best safety records in the world," says a spokesperson for the Canadian health ministry, Health Canada.

Buying from Canada is cheap and safe, but is it legal? Well, no.

Prescription drugs — even those originally made here — may not be carried or mailed into this country. But the FDA has "enforcement discretion" and is willing to turn a blind eye in some circumstances.

On a practical level, this means that licensed Canadian pharmacies following good practices (see "Warnings and guidelines," below) currently are shipping to U.S. buyers with impunity and buyers aren't being targeted by authorities.

So far, FDA crackdown measures have been aimed at questionable online pharmacies and storefront operations that place Internet orders for customers wanting to buy from Canada.

Recent congressional support for consumer access to Canadian drugs is unlikely to make importation "legal," due to difficulties with certifying that the imported drugs are safe, but it may help keep the border guards looking the other way.

Warnings and guidelines

  • Look for the name, street address, telephone number and license number of the foreign pharmacy that fills orders for the Web site.
  • You shouldn't be charged for confiscated shipments.
  • For safety and peace of mind, look for prescriptions shipped in the original, unopened, sealed, manufacturers' packages, advises Discount Drugs Depot. They add that if you still feel unsure, ask to have the pharmacist call your doctor.

Canadian resources

Thomas S. French and his wife, Jacqueline

Thomas S. French was a practicing U.S. plastic surgeon before being sidelined by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1996. He and his wife, Jacqueline, of Barnard, Vt., started Two Nations Rx to bring price relief to American consumers.

Outside of an occasional border delay, French says none of his customers have had any legal problems with their Canadian orders.

Not all drugs are available in Canadian pharmacies. Narcotics and controlled substances can't be shipped across the border. (For example, Provigil, a drug used by people with myotonic dystrophy to combat daytime sleepiness, isn't available.) Two Nations Rx won't ship fragile medications, ones requiring refrigeration, or ones "we consider habit-forming or detrimental to a patients' health when purchased from a pharmacy rather than in their place of residence."

 

Brand Name Prices in Canada & Online
Drug Usage Discount Drugs Depot (Canada)
$15 shipping per order
Two Nations Rx (Canada)
$15 shipping per order
Drugstore.com (USA)
$1.49 shipping per order
Costco (online)  (USA)
free shipping
CELEBREX
200 mg
90-100 capsules
Arthritis; in testing as an ALS treatment $126.93
(100)
$136.11
(100)
$211.99
(90)
$244.27
(100)
FOSAMAX
10 mg
90-100 tablets
Osteoporosis (an effect of neuromuscular disease and steroid use) $153.97
(90)
$126.69
(90)
$191.98
(90)
$221.19
(100)
Total: includes shipping   $295.90
(190 pills)
$277.80
(190 pills)
$405.46
(180 pills)
$465.46
(200 pills)

 

Generic Prices in Canada & Online
Drug Usage Discount Drugs Depot (Canada)
$15 shipping per order
Two Nations Rx (Canada)
$15 shipping per order
Drugstore.com (USA)
$1.49 shipping per order
Costco (online) (USA)
free shipping
Prozac
10 mg
90-100 capsules
Depression $115.32
(100)
$106.59
(100)
$84.99
(90)
$18.09
(100)
Prednisone
5 mg
90-100 tablets
Autoimmune diseases;
Duchenne MD
$15.98
(100)
N/A
site says "cheaper in U.S."
$8.10
(90)
$8.30
(100)
(only 10 mg)
Total: includes shipping   $146.30
(200 pills)
No comparison, due to missing drug $94.58
(180 pills)
$26.39
(200 pills)
(larger dose Prednisone)

All prices are in U.S. dollars.

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