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Cheap Canadian Drugs May Be Fakes

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Q: Your column on the growing problem of counterfeit drugs mentioned that this might be a risk for people buying their prescription drugs from Canada. Unfortunately, this is the only way I can afford my medicines. Can you elaborate more on how to protect ourselves?

Q: Your use of the word grandstanding to describe senators who bus constituents to Canada to help them save money on medications seems misdirected. If this is grandstanding don't we need more of it?

A: As to grandstanding, I was thinking of politicians who make a big show for constituents on one hand but on the other don't really do the behind-the-scenes spadework to make sure seniors can afford the prescription drugs they need. If these politicians do the latter, my hat's off to them. Otherwise, it's just pandering to make political hay.

In a written response to my prior column, AARP, a proponent of buying prescription drugs from Canada, makes a point I heartily agree with:

"AARP believes it is a national embarrassment that in a country with the most advanced medical system in the world, so many of our citizens, often on fixed incomes and with limited resources, can obtain affordable prescription drugs only by seeking them in foreign countries."

AARP acknowledges the potential safety concerns and hopes a solution will be found that enables the United States to care for its own, such as coverage of prescription drugs under Medicare.

The tactic of buying prescription drugs from Canada has escalated in popularity because prices are much lower. This is largely because the Canadian government puts a cap on drug prices.

People living near the border may drive into Canada to get their prescriptions filled. U.S. regulations allow travelers to bring back a 90-day personal supply.

Other people and those too sick to travel purchase Canadian drugs through the mail from Internet pharmacies. Technically, such drug importation into the United States is illegal, but enforcement has been soft.

Canada has a well-regulated pharmaceutical industry and many Canadian Internet pharmacies appear to be reputable.

The FDA has been cracking down on illegal "storefronts" and Web pharmacies. Be aware that some of these enterprises aren't even in Canada and some are not licensed. They may advertise "Canadian" drugs but get them from other countries or use counterfeits.

On the Web, Pharmacy outlines the benefits and risks of dealing with Internet pharmacies and provides other helpful information.

Subscribers have access to ratings and profiles of Canadian and Mexican Internet pharmacies as well as drug price comparisons.

Certain prescription drugs require special dispensing restrictions to ensure patient safety. FDA advises against purchasing the following drugs over the Internet: Accutane (isotretinoin), Actiq (fentanyl citrate), Clozaril (clozapine), Lotronex (alosetron hydrochloride), Mifeprex (mifepristone or RU-486), Thalomid (thalidomide), Tikosyn (dofetilide), Tracleer (bosentan), Trovan (trovafloxacin mesylate or alatrofloxacin mesylate injection), and Xyrem (sodium oxybate).


(Richard Harkness is a consultant pharmacist who writes on health care topics. You can write him at 1224 King Henry Drive, Ocean Springs, MS 39564. His e-mail address is Volume of mail prohibits individual replies; selected letters will be answered in his column.)


(c) 2003, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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