Report Finds Americans are Seeking Medications Abroad for Cheaper Prices

When purchased outside the country, many prescription medicines cost less than half of what they do in the United States, driving more Americans to look online to fill their prescriptions despite the legal and safety implications, according to a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Eight percent of respondents said they or someone in their household imported a prescription drug at some point, a number that translates to about 19 million adults in the United States based on current census population estimates. This number is much higher than the rates reported in surveys conducted by the U.S. government, which suggested that the number was around 2 percent in 2011. The Kaiser poll was conducted nationally and included 1,202 adults ranging from 20 to ≥80 years of age.

Although it is illegal for Americans to import prescription drugs, the law is not rigorously enforced. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented a rule that expanded the authority of government border inspectors to destroy drugs imported for personal use at their point of entry.

Spokespeople for U.S. Customs and Border Protection claim that the internet has made it much easier for Americans to buy prescription drugs abroad, which commonly come from disreputable sources. The FDA cautions that many online pharmacies are not well regulated. A 2014 international investigative operation found that many packages of medications supposedly imported from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom actually contained drugs from other countries, including India, China, and Laos. The agency also stated that medications from online pharmacies could be expired, inferior in quality, or counterfeit.

Source: Kaiser Health News, January 20, 2017.