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Canadian Internet Pharmacies

 Buying drugs from Canada - Small but growing

The Pew Internet and American Life Project said in a new report that only 4 percent of Americans have ever used the Internet to buy prescription drugs and only a portion of these buy drugs from foreign pharmacies like those in Canada or Mexico.

According to the study, 62% believe that drugs bought online are less safe than those that can be bought at local pharmacies. The U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) says that it cannot guarantee the safety of drugs sold through foreign pharmacies and indeed it cannot.  The FDA has no authority in Canada, Mexico, or in any other other country.  Foreign pharmacies are not required to follow FDA requirements, the FDA cannot conduct any investigations, and chances are that the FDA will not know anything about a problem.

What that means however, is that it is entirely up to the consumer to determine what countries they buy their prescription medications from, based upon the authorities and regulations that are in place in that country.

When it comes to Canadian pharmacies, this seems to be the easy choice for many Americans.  Canadian pharmacy laws are very similar to those in the United States and enforcement is equally vigilant in making sure that Canadian medications are of the same quality.

This message seems to have resonated at state levels with North Dakota, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire being amongst the first states to facilitate their residents' ability to buy prescription drugs from Canada.  

Other states are either planning or considering such moves and the first peek that the Federal government may be moving towards removing blocks came during this year's Presidential debates when President George Bush indicated that it was under study.  

Indeed, if the Federal government puts a stamp of approval on it, it will need the highest levels of assurances that United States citizens are safe.  Experts indicate that such a move is likely and that to date, no issues have been raised to indicate that there are any greater problems in Canada than in the U.S.

Drug company objections

Since only 4% of Americans have bought drugs online and only a small percent of those were from Canadian pharmacies, one has to wonder what the big deal is and why drug companies are so opposed to the idea.  

Drug manufacturers sell the same medications to Canadians that they do to Americans and despite assertions of "concerns" over safety, no realistic data has been provided indicating that there is any basis for this concern.  If there is such a basis, it would seem as though the drug companies would be able to come up with supportive facts.

The simple truth of it is that the prescription drug manufacturers know that they know that they have a tiger by the tail, and that letting that tiger go could potentially mean losing billions of dollars in profits.

Since Canada controls the prices that drug companies can sell for and the United States does not, the profits to the drug manufacturers for drugs sold in America are much higher.  While only a small percentage of seniors purchase their medications in Canada, more and more seniors are getting online.  

When seniors find that their friends are doing it and saving money, like any word of mouth good news, the tendency to move towards foreign pharmacies can take awhile, but then grow at enormous speed.  Evidence of this comes from the Pew report indicating that 26% of Americans have used the Internet for researching medications and obtaining price information.  If even a portion of those make the subtle change to actually buying their medications online, drug companies and American pharmacies will take a big blow.

Simply put, it's easier to scare people off from buying the first time than it is to bring them back once they've tried it, saved money, and learned that their health is in no danger.  Or more simply put, it's easier to squash a snowball than to stop an avalanche.  

Of course one cannot blame any company for trying to keep their profits high.  The question of ethics comes into play however, when companies do it by trying to scare their customers or when they try to cut off Canadian pharmacies that don't do their bidding.  About a half dozen drug companies have cut off supplies to Canadian pharmacies for non-compliance, but this has had little effect.  Pharmacies whose supplies are interrupted merely found replacements in Europe.  

Among the findings in the Pew report:

  • Online drug buyers tend to have higher incomes and more years online than the average.  They feel more comfortable ordering anything online and this translates to buying prescription drugs.

  • Most people who ordered reported good success and planned to do it again.

  • Most of the drugs that were purchased were for chronic conditions.  This would include arthritis, blood pressure and heart problems, allergies, migraines, cholesterol, diabetes, and others.

  • Most indicated the primary reason for ordering medications online was financial, making the time delays and small amount of extra work worth the effort.

According to the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA), when it comes to using online pharmacy websites, most use it for research but only about 10% actually complete the purchase online.  The remaining 90% phone their orders in.

Drug manufacturers next steps

It certainly seems as though drug manufacturers are still in the knee-jerk response mode of trying to squash the snowball before it gets too big.  Look for more reprisals and more lobbying in Washington, perhaps even going the route of civil litigation and even pushing criminal charges where they can.  The later however, will be very difficult since most of the facilitators are not subject to U.S. law.  Nevertheless, you can expect to see drug companies pull out the stops to thwart this consumer movement towards purchasing from Canadian pharmacies.  

The drug companies however, would be best in the long run to take a look around them and recognize that it is inevitably self-defeating to stand in front of any Internet driven movement, especially those fueled by cost savings on one side and increasing the market share on the other side.  They may as well be trying to herd a bunch of cats.

The music industry tried it by stamping out Napster.  But like hitting a grease fire with water, it only spread their problem to many fires that are very hard to control.  

Drug companies, like their counterparts in the music industry, that continue to fight this movement will simply suffer the consequences of lost market-share.  If consumer cannot get a certain medication through their Canadian pharmacy, they will ask their doctors to prescribe alternative medications and then the drug companies will lose both profits and market-share.

On the other hand, drug manufactures that get behind Canadian pharmacies or choose to sell American prescription medications at the same price they sell it in Canada will gain all sorts of good press and public good will.  The trick to this however, is to be one of the first few to make the shift rather than being the last holdouts on a profit system that is simply going away no matter how hard they try to stop it.

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