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News Letter

Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Buying Prescription Drugs Outside the United States Print E-mail

Some people with arthritis looking to cut prescription costs have tried buying their medications from other countries. Whether through Internet sites or by crossing the border to Canada or Mexico, here are some important issues you should consider.

Important Facts about Importing Medicines

The United States has strict regulations to ensure the safety of medications sold here.

"When you go outside the U.S. regulatory system, you're choosing to leave those protections behind," says Susan Winckler, R.Ph., Esq., vice president of policy and communications at the American Pharmacists Association.

Several problems can occur:

  • Quality Concerns. The medication may not have been manufactured or stored under high-quality conditions.
  • Counterfeit Potential. Just because a pill looks the same as one you buy in this country doesn't necessarily mean it is. A counterfeit pill might turn out to be unsafe or completely ineffective.
  • Labeling Issues. The medication's label may be in a language you don't understand. Even if you can read the label, however, there's no guarantee that the information provided there is accurate. The label also may lack the proper warnings about dangerous side effects.
  • Untested Substances. Some imported medications contain ingredients that are legal in other countries, but that haven't been approved here. These ingredients are sometimes addictive or harmful.
  • Unsupervised Use. Prescription medications, whether imported or not, need to be taken under a doctor's supervision. Buying them from a questionable website without a prescription is very risky indeed.

What about buying medications in Canada?

Canada has an excellent system for ensuring high-quality medicines as well. However, a medication with the same name may have a different formulation in Canada. It may need to be administered differently to do its job safely and effectively. As a consumer, you might not realize this.

What's the bottom line on crossing the border?

Whenever you get your medication from another country, it could wind up costing you your health. Winckler suggests that you consider other cost-cutting options instead, such as signing up for an assistance program. For example, Together Rx ( is one such program available to Medicare beneficiaries with qualifying incomes and no prescription drug coverage.


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