Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

US eases its restrictions on prescription drugs from Canada

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 19 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:824
  1. Barbara Kermode-Scott
  1. Calgary

    The US government has eased restrictions on its citizens importing prescribed drugs from outside the country, after intensive lobbying by patients' groups demanding access to lower cost prescription drugs from Canada.

    Although it is still illegal generally to import drugs from Canada or any other country into the United States, US consumers who buy small quantities of prescription drugs in person, through the internet or by mail order, for their personal use will no longer have to worry about their drugs being seized at the border.

    In late September the US Congress agreed to allow US citizens visiting Canada to buy and bring back legally a 90 day supply of prescription drugs for personal use. Earlier this month President Bush signed an amendment in the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill enacting this legislative change.

    For years US citizens living close to the Canadian border have crossed into Canada to buy prescription drugs. Canadian prescription drugs are usually cheaper than US drugs, mainly because the Canadian government regulates drug prices.

    The US Department of Homeland Security, which operates the Customs and Border Protection Agency, said that from 9 October 2006 it would stop the confiscation of prescription drugs mailed from Canadian internet pharmacies to US citizens.

    In recent years more Canadian pharmacies have been selling drugs through the internet and by mail order. It is estimated that US customs agents seized about 40 000 packages mailed to US patients during a crackdown between November 2005 and mid-July 2006 on the import of potentially counterfeit and unsafe drugs.

    The Ontario Pharmacists' Association expressed concern that the relaxed enforcement measures in the US pose an “imminent” threat to Canada's supply of drugs, compromising the health and safety of Canadians.

    “We're back to a free for all for cross border drugs,” said Marc Kealey, the association's chief executive officer. “We must warn unequivocally that bulk importation would quickly deplete the Canadian drug supply and cause a crisis in drug availability for Canadians—in one credible US analysis, within 38 days.”

    US customs statistics on mail order seizures show that at least 10% of packages purportedly from Canadian internet pharmacies contain counterfeit drugs, said Mr Kealey.

    “We are concerned that the legitimising of internet drug purchases by Americans encourages fraud by offshore criminals posing as Canadian pharmacists and selling counterfeit drugs,” he added. “This is a health and safety threat to both American and Canadian patients who rely on the reputation of Canadian pharmacists and buy drugs from what they believe are Canadian internet pharmacies, believing them to be safe and genuine.”

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