USA Today Examines Laws on Purchases of Prescription Drugs in Mexico
USA Today on Friday examined the "unclear" laws on whether U.S. residents can purchase lower-cost prescription drugs from pharmacies in Mexico and transport them across the border. According to a U.S. Consulate information sheet, U.S. residents should not purchase prescription drugs in Mexico because Mexican authorities in the past have arrested U.S. residents and taken their medications, regardless of whether they had prescriptions. "Generally, the enforcement in Mexico has been weak and haphazard. And when occasionally Mexico decides to enforce things, someone walks out of the door of a pharmacy and gets arrested," Paul Ganster of the Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias at San Diego State University said.
Under Mexican law, consumers who purchase prescription drugs must have valid prescriptions and cannot purchase the medications with the intent to transport them across the border and sell them. Under federal law, U.S. residents technically cannot transport prescription drugs into the United States from other nations, but FDA inspectors allow the practice provided that the amounts are small and for personal use, according to agency Associate Commissioner William Hubbard. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are "more specific, allowing people to bring in a 60- to 90-day supply of medicine," USA Today reports. According to Jim Michie, a spokesperson for the agency, U.S. residents must declare medications that they transport into the United States and have them in their original containers. In addition, they must have copies of the prescriptions or letters from their physicians (Jones/Alvord, USA Today, 8/13).
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on Thursday examined the increased number of Canadian mail-order pharmacies "scrambling to purchase brand-name drugs" from other nations to fill orders for U.S. residents after some U.S. pharmaceutical companies have limited their supplies to help prevent prescription drug reimportation. According to the Star Tribune, at least five Canadian mail-order pharmacies in the last two months have filled orders for U.S. residents with medications from Israel, Chile, Australia, France, Britain, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, Denmark and Italy. In addition, CanadaRx, a Toronto-based mail-order pharmacy that serves about 6,000 seniors in Minnesota through a Minneapolis Senior Federation program, has opened a branch office in the Bahamas that fills orders with medications from seven nations and ships them to the United States.
Officials for Total Care Pharmacy, which serves about 1,000 Minnesota residents through the state RxConnect program, said that the company in June began to contract with pharmacies in England, Australia, Israel and Chile to fill orders. Other Canadian mail-order pharmacies that fill orders with medications from other nations include CanadaMeds, American Drug Club and Jan Drugs. Canadian law does not allow mail-order pharmacies to import prescription drugs from other nations, regardless of whether they plan to ship the medications to U.S. residents. According to officials for Canadian mail-order pharmacies, the companies fill more than 90% of orders with medications from Canada, the Star Tribune reports.
Hubbard said, "FDA cannot assure you that what you think is Lipitor from Canada is actually Lipitor, or if it's from Canada or Bangladesh or Timbuktu." Total Care President David Robertson, said, "Pretty soon this is what all of us are going to have to do if we want to keep serving out clients."
Andy Troszok, president of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association said, "Health care is becoming international, and that's already true at the wholesale level with the drug makers. In five years, that may be true at the retail level as well."
David MacKay, executive director of the pharmacy association, said that "people will buy more than $1 billion in products from us because they trust us. They trust Canadians. But do they trust other countries as much? And especially, do they trust drugs coming through a Caribbean country that has a kind of bad reputation for illegal drugs? We absolutely cannot squander that trust" (Wolfe, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 8/12).