Need Cheap Medication? Move to Maine

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For Americans stuck paying high prices for medication, there has long been a classic dodge: Rather than shelling out at U.S. rates, those with a little creativity and a willingness to bend (well, OK, break) the law can get lower-cost meds from Canada.

Granted, there are dangers -- some Canadian purveyors sell counterfeit pharmaceuticals of varying quality -- but with a little bit of research, it isn't hard to find a reputable Canadian pharmacy that is willing to sell brand-name drugs at a significant discount -- and mail them to an American address.

Even the legal danger isn't completely clear-cut. While importing drugs from foreign pharmacies is illegal under the Prescription Drug Marketing Act of 1987, the FDA has, historically, often overlooked people ordering up to a 90-day supply of drugs for personal use. Even so, it is still, officially, illegal to import drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

Unless you live in Maine.

On Wednesday, Maine became the first state to allow residents to directly import prescription drugs from foreign pharmacies. For years, companies and municipalities in the state -- including the city of Portland -- had worked out deals with Canadian pharmacies, through which they were able to get low-cost Canadian drugs shipped in for their citizens and employees. But last year, facing pressure from pharmaceutical companies and trade groups, the state's attorney general made it illegal for employers to import drugs. The new law, however, makes it possible for patients to deal directly with Canadian pharmacies.

Not surprisingly, the new law was met with an immediate legal challenge from drug manufacturers. Citing concerns over customer safety, Maine pharmacy groups and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Portland. The outcome of that lawsuit could have a major impact on other states that are considering relaxing their drug importation policies.

It's easy to chalk up the pharmacy lobby's alleged customer safety concerns as window dressing for their attempts to preserve their control over the U.S. drug market. However, given that there have been some very real examples of unethical pharmacies selling doctored or improperly-labeled products, the lobbyists' claims can't be so easily dismissed.

The irony is that the old system, under which companies and municipalities were able to directly contract with Canadian pharmacies to negotiate low prescription drug prices, actually provided an extra level of safety to consumers. These groups, with larger resources and more purchasing leverage, were in a good position to determine the legitimacy of the pharmacies, as well as in a good position to bargain on prices. Individual consumers, on the other hand, are potentially more vulnerable to scams, and less able to negotiate. In other words, in the name of consumer safety, Maine's attorney general took a bite out of consumers' pocketbooks last year. And now, in the name of consumer finances, the state may have passed a law that may endanger consumer health.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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24 Comments

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rahgolf

Safety concerns my foot!

Read Sunday's NYTimes and see how Big Pharmaceuticals are screwing us!!

Ask your Congressman to explain the laws prohibiting serious negotiations w/ BP!!

October 14 2013 at 11:14 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
rxrights

American consumers deserve access to medicine they can afford. We applaud Maine for taking this pivotal first step towards more affordable medicine for its citizens, and we hope to see other states follow suit. For those outside of Maine, importation from legitimate Canadian and other international online pharmacies (though technically illegal) is still an option. In fact, more than a million Americans each year depend on international online pharmacies to access the drugs they need at prices they can afford. Of course, consumers need to take care when ordering prescriptions online. Thankfully there are entities that vet international online pharmacies for safety. We have tips on our website for choosing a safe online pharmacy. www.rxrights.org

October 14 2013 at 11:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
drpmindmender

Right after the first casino opened in Windsor, Ontario, I read of a group of 50-60 senior citizens going on "gambling jaunts" 4 times a year from NE Ohio. Of course, what they were really doing was buying their 90-day prescriptions.

On a number of occasions, their local congressman accompanied them.

October 14 2013 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nklswrth

God forbid folks find a way to avoid being ripped off by US drug companies. Nothing like a little monopoly there, eh boys?

October 14 2013 at 10:07 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
scottee

no, we already have enough people on welfare in Maine.

October 14 2013 at 8:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
k4jlp

Americans, Please remember your bought off yet elected Congress is supposed to be working for YOU. It's way past time we remind them of that.

October 14 2013 at 7:18 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
nicolaxoxo

I have been buying drugs through Canadian pharmacies for some time and have NO complaints. One drug costs $95 a month here and I pay $10 month. This is for a BRAND name, not a cheap generic. Another asthma inhaler was nearly $250 here and I was ordering it for $60. Honestly I did not even know I was breaking federal law and as a disabled person with no prescription coverage I do not have the money to buy these drugs here. The only drawback is that the initial order takes up to a month to arrive because yes it does a "world tour" in some cases coming from Switzerland or England then to Canada then to an American pharmacy in Vermont, then on to me in Florida. Now how does the American pharmacy carry on being the middleman if this is against the law? Just curious. I did have to fax a copy of my doctor's prescription to the Canadian pharmacy. No idea if they check it out. I do know I have been told they do not ship controlled substances, even minor things like Ambien. I guess my doctor knows it is quasi illegal because they told me they would not fax the script to any Canadian pharmacy, I would have to take a hard copy and fax it myself. Now the doctor is the one who suggested I obtain the meds from a Canadian pharmacy, so they are not against it, just likely they are against violating the law by faxing to the Canadian pharmacy. I have never had any of my doctor's suggest any danger from me obtaining my meds thru Canada.

October 14 2013 at 2:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
paddleman1928

not to worry-big pharma will get congress to stop them from doing this.

October 13 2013 at 9:51 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
ugrass3

I SOMETIMES DO NOT READ, BEFORE I SEND.SORRY AMERICA! IT IS NOT THAT GREAT NEWS.KEEP THE DRUGS OUT OF THE U.S.A. ,THAT COST TOO MUCH! THAT\'S WHAT I FIRST WAS TRYING TO SEND TO EVERTBODY!

October 13 2013 at 9:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bzh484

Obamacare has a rule buried in it that says that Doctors must send prescription requirements electronically to your drug store.
Now try to find out how much the drugs will cost from different stores. need to have that script moved to the other drug store jus tfor the price.
So the public gets it in the shorts while the foreskins in washington make out.

October 13 2013 at 9:08 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bzh484's comment
drpmindmender

Of course, you are ignoring the safety issues caused by pharmacy errors incurred when incorrectly interpreting a doctor's scribble.

October 14 2013 at 10:09 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to drpmindmender's comment
jdykbpl45

All electronic prescriptions are typed, not hand written.

October 14 2013 at 1:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down