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Should Kansas import prescription drugs from Canada if the U.S.D.A. cannot guarantee the drugs are safe?

Asked at Borders, 700 N.H. on December 1, 2004

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Photo of Sherri Wealthall

“Yes. I take four prescriptions a day. It would be nice to have something cheaper, and I know that they are cheaper coming from there.”

Photo of Miguel Gonzalez

“Well, probably. They are safe for Canadians, so we can use them. They should let people know that they haven’t been approved and let people choose.”

Photo of Nick Birney

“I say no. I think we need to make sure that all the drugs we are getting are 100 percent safe.”

Photo of Deborah Stobaugh

“No. There are questions as to the differences in the patent laws about what can be imported and rebottled. We were told that if we counseled a patient to order imported prescription drugs, we would be charged with a crime.”


mr_daniels 13 years, 6 months ago

Canadian imported drugs are generics and therefore a cheap copy from the original researched and developed here in the U.S. Customer pays for that which is U.S.D.A. approved. Buy generics and the customer waives his or her health by purchasing a drug that may or may not be the real deal! It use to be that the customer was always right! Me? I pay for the real deal and trust our pharmaceutical companies to provide a safe drug for me. And as a customer, I am always right!

jasoniniraq 13 years, 6 months ago

I do not think they should allow the drugs. There are reasons for having regulations and tests. If we just pass these policies then how safe do we know they are? I have to agree with the above response and say, that would be another drug that would be recalled after being on the market for a few years and done the damage to patients, just to save a couple dollars.

ssauble 13 years, 6 months ago

They're cheaper because they're not slugging 60% of their expenses towards marketing. Think of the impact if THAT was placed towards research.

I've more faith in foreign pharmaceuticals than I do with domestic.

laser_gun 13 years, 6 months ago

How many times are we going to debate this same question? Every time we begin this, the issue of cost vs. price starts to show its ugly head. First of all I have no idea why the USDA would be in charge of regulating the import and export of prescription drugs, shouldn't that fall under the FDA?

The FDA has a process of analysis after the drug is released to the market where further studies are conducted to monitor the efficacy and toxicity of the drug. These phase IV and V studies are the catalyst for some drugs being recalled from the market, in particular a recent Merck product. Now Vioxx was removed by Merck not the FDA, but this removal occurred because of these post-release studies.

Should the FDA do that on imported drugs? Most American drugs are actually made elsewhere anyway and imported to the US by the manufacturer. Will importing nations who are not required to follow FDA standards (Canada) then be responsible for conducting studies that mimic our phase IV and V studies? Who pays to keep us safe? Someone has to.

When you try to get something for nothing, you should carefully examine what you have.

ive_got_my_ascot_n_my_dickie 13 years, 6 months ago

Drugs should be allowed from Canada. I don't buy the argument that "they might not be safe." This is standard rhetoric issued by the pharmaceutical corporations so Americans will be scared into paying a lot more for their medicine. In many cases, drugs from Canada are manufactured in the US, so why is there such a safety concern? For those who haven't been there, Canada is a civilized society. It's not as if we're seeking drugs from a run-down "farmacia" in Tijuana.

remember_username 13 years, 6 months ago

There are unmentioned considerations. Are these drugs generics that are approved for treatment by the F.D.A. in the states? If that is the case then the drugs are "probably" safe. (I say probably because I am not an expert and therefore am refusing to be liable.) I believe the drug manufacturing technology is just as good in Commonwealth states as in the U.S.

But recall the Thalomid case. I wouldn't use any medications not approved for treatment by the F.D.A. If the F.D.A. says I can use aspirin then Canadian aspirin is good enough for me. While not infallable the F.D.A. had our backs on the Thalomid problem.

optimist 13 years, 6 months ago

I hope the day never comes when those of you complaining about the high price of drugs here in the U.S. find out the cost of buying them from foreign countries. Drug companies operate in a free market. That along with patent protection has promoted the research and development of many drugs that have treated and cured millions of Americans over time. Each new drug that is approved and sells carries with it a great burden. Today's drug pays for tomorrow's discoveries. There are many diseases that cures are not available for. How many of them could have been cured by now if not for Americans undermining them by purchasing foreign drugs.
Unfortunately patents can not be enforced by the U.S. Government and as a result drug companies whether they like it or not must negotiate pricing with other governments with socialized medical systems in order to prevent those countries from infringing on their patent. It's a something is better than nothing result. The only benefit to the drug companies is that those countries commit to buying in bulk a specific quantity in advance.
Some have complained about marketing of drugs. Though many drugs are marketed to the masses there are even more that are not. Some drugs such as Viagra generally require the patient to initiate treatment so marketing to the masses makes sense. Most other drugs are marketed specifically to physicians who work in a specialty that may require them to prescribe said drug. I fear that if we upset the free market rules in this industry too much we may create an impediment to developing new drugs. All those in favor; buy your drugs from Canada. I for one will continue to buy them from my local (locally owned) pharmacy and just hope that the drug companies continue to work on treatments for all of those diseases we all claim to care so much about curing before someone we love is afflicted with a disease that could have been cured if not for drugs from Canada.

mrcairo 13 years, 6 months ago

Most of the drugs that come down from Canada are bought from U.S. Companies at pennies on the dollar. The Canadians are re-selling the same drug at a greatly reduced rate.

I just bought 15 pills that cost me $45.00. If I could get these for $5.00 from Canada guess where I'd buy them. Go figure it out yourself.

Savage 13 years, 6 months ago

To: remember username: Ok...the fda said viox was safe at one point until folks started dropping off like flies using it...also the whilstleblower at the fda (big story) says they suppress or soften negative findings about drugs ready to hit the market. And as for the pharmacist up top. You have officially been indoctrinated by a police state mentality and policy. Maybe you should move to cananda where you can't be charged with a crime for recomending US drugs...jeesh!

badger 13 years, 6 months ago

My gut reaction is to say, "Sure, so long as the active ingredients are the same and the inactive ones are made known, go for it. All hail free trade, right? Competition's good for business."

The problem is a lack of well-explained drug chemistry. For example, if you take 'Advil,' but buy generic, you both are and aren't getting the same drug. Ibuprofen is a chiral compound, meaning some twist left and some twist right. One is a handy pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. The other, a harmless but useless compound. The difference between Advil and generic? The Advil people take the time and money to separate out the 'good' molecules, the generic folks don't. So the label says the same thing, and a chemical analysis would reveal that they're both 500 mg of ibuprofen, but the drugs don't work the same.

That's with US drugs already available in this country. I think that the matter would actually be the same with Canadian drugs, when you come down to it. The labels will read, just as generic labels read, "50 mg chemical X." Chemical X is Chemical X. The Canadians might not call it Advil, but they will call it ibuprofen. You'll take the same chances on it that you do on generics. So long as Chemical X has been approved for use for Condition M, let the drugs come from Canada, whatever the brand name.

When the government says it can't guarantee those drugs, I want to know what it means. Does it mean, "We're not willing to take the responsibility of ensuring that Canadian ibuprofen will work exactly as well as American," or "We're not going to guarantee that what is written on the label is what's in the bottle and that your drugs are free of contamination"?

If it's the first, fine. They're my medicines, and I as a consumer am responsible for talking to my pharmacist and demanding answers about the efficacy of generic/branded/foreign drugs--and my pharmacist is responsible for not just taking the Pfizer rep's word for things.

If it's the second, I ask why drugs should be different from food. When I buy Australian wine, the government guarantees that the bottle isn't full of turpentine. They won't guarantee that it will be any good, but they're promising me that when the label says 'Shiraz' there won't be orange juice inside--and that if there is, I have recourse. To me, that's the same thing as guaranteeing that my bottle of Canadian ibuprofen will contain ibuprofen.

We already import medicines made in other countries. We import lots of things made in other countries. Is that cheese really gouda, or might it be edam? Were the fish in those imitation crab cakes caught in waters tainted by pesticides off the coast of Thailand? Does that steel girder contain too many impurities to hold up this high-rise building? It's just that right now the drug companies have better lobbyists and a better PR machine than the cheese, fish, or steel lobbyists.

remember_username 13 years, 6 months ago

The argument that Americans purchasing drugs from foreign manufacturers undermine efforts to find cures for disease is offensive to me. You are putting the blame in the wrong place. Many (not all, admittedly) people are simply trying to find a cheaper source of the medicines they need, in a economy where money is so tight. In some cases this is the only way they can afford medicine. Would you fault them for exercising their rights in a "free world market"? Blame the weak world patent process if you must - but not just folks trying to get by.

remember_username 13 years, 6 months ago

Savage, as I said the F.D.A. is not infallable - Vioxx is a good example of a failure on the F.D.A.'s part. And a good example of the harm that can be caused by a Pharmaceutical corporation when abusing science for profit.

ms_canada 13 years, 6 months ago

Wow, what a lot of great comments today. At last a question with some teeth. As a Canadian, I have a few comments to make. I will include a few things about our health care system in general. What a coincidence, I just came from a visit to my doctor for a check on my hypertension. He gave me a prescription for a refill of the three medications that I take to control my blood pressure. At the pharmacy I paid $63 total for 100 tablet of each med.(300 tabs) Without Blue Cross Ins. the price would have been $294. My lovely and wise doctor said it was time I had a complete physical with all lab work, EEG, mamogram, bone density test and chest X-ray. The lab and EEG were done this am in his clinic lab. In one week I will have the other tests and then the physical. What is this going to cost me. Nada! My husband and I pay $264 4 times a year for our Gov. medicare premiums. That amount is for the two of us. This covers everything I would ever need. I have had ultra sounds, C-t scans, emergency ward treatment and all the office visits I require and never pay another cent. Even the Blue Cross premiums are paid for because we are seniors. How does that sound to you yanks? What I can't understand is why you are not all agitating for some kind of gov. medical coverage like that. I am not being critical, don't get me wrong. I just would like to know why you all go along with the coverage that you have as I have heard some horror stories about people not being covered at all. Some cannot even get into emergency wards no matter what. That would never happen here. And about the Canadian drugs, I have never felt unsafe taking any med that my doctor prescribed. How many cases do we hear of deaths from drugs here in Canada? I don't recall any. I asked my dr. this am and he said the same thing. Our drugs are as safe as any in the US.

PigFarmer 13 years, 6 months ago

The drugs from Canada are fine, where do you think drugs are made- USA? Take Lipitor one of the biggest drugs prescribed and made by a good old American company- Pfizer.

Guess where Lipitor is made, no they are not putting any American to work making Lipitor.

Many times while in Central America I purchased drugs and they were just fine. Once in Honduras I purchased a drug scooped out of a wooden bin, great stuff and cheap.

acg 13 years, 6 months ago

Drug companies make billions of dollars every year. Billions!! They are raping the American people on the costs of prescription drugs. I was in line behind an elderly lady at the pharmacy a few weeks ago and she was paying $400 for a bottle of pills. I could tell by her body language that she really couldn't afford it. I wanted to cry for her. That is ridiculous! To say that we have to pay elevated costs to compensate for R & D ticks me off. Maybe a few of those drug co. ceo's should sell some of their private jets if their companies are so hard up for research dollars. I think going across the border for drugs is a great idea. Plus, it's like a day trip to a nice area. I heard Canada is beautiful.

Carmenilla 13 years, 6 months ago

Great discussion everybody! And I was hoping ms_canada would respond today. So if my math is right, ms_canada and her husband spend a little over a grand annually on their healthcare (not including meds) with no co-pays. Man!!! Thats crazy......For my family of 3 we spend upwards of $300 per month on a plan thru my husband's work. Thats not including co-pays and meds which means in an average year (we're all in great health, mind you) we spend about $4000 on healthcare costs. We have a really good deal on a really good plan but the cost is still pretty high. When I think about the fact that we send our daughter to a private school and we spend about $6000 a year on that, the amount spent on healthcare (just to be covered and feel "safe") seems ridiculous. I know the idea of a socialized healthcare system sends people running and screaming into the woods but the numbers don't look so bad AND we could cover a lot more people (who really need it). And as far as importing drugs go, people will do what they gotta do. I would just want the imported drugs to be safe. I can only assume the Canadians' standard of living can't be that far off from ours so they must be getting the safe drugs too. If its good enough for them.....

Savage 13 years, 6 months ago

I wonder why we Americans don't want full health care coverage for everyone at 500 bucks a year per person like in canada. How would or could it hurt us? Why are we so afraid of this. Is it rich doctors, trial lawyers and insurance co's who fund legislators to lobby against such legislative reform? What gives!

remember_username 13 years, 6 months ago

Savage: Yes, it is a big business - and that industry has powerful lobbyists. What gives is that the people in America are fed untruths about how bad nationalized medicine is. Nationalized healthcare has some true problems, but I'll bet we could make could make it work even better than a lot of other countries with our resources and technology.

drugdealer 13 years, 6 months ago

Badger: While I applaude you on knowing what a chiral compound is, there is no real difference like you say might exist between a brand and generic or a drug from this country vs. a foreign drug. Ibuprofen is ibuprofen, no difference. I'm no chemist but am a pharmacist here in lawrence. A generic drug has to prove that is has similar absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion that the brand name compound has. Where drug companies you chirality is in extending patents and making billions of more dollars. Celexa vs. Lexapro - same company, lexapro is just the active isomer of Celexa. Nexium vs. Prilosec - same concept, Nexium is the active isomer of Prilosec. Many other drugs use this same concept. Canadian drugs if bought from reputable sources is the same as American drugs, hell they are the same drugs made at the same plants. We need to reform the drug companies in the US first before we start outsourcing to Canada. Drug companies make a better profit than almost any other industry.

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