Research: Generic Drugs Often Cheaper in US Than From Canada


Eight percent of Americans say they have imported a medicine for personal use because of cost.

Americans can save more money buying generic drugs from US pharmacies than they can save ordering online from Canada, but prices on brand-name medications were lower at Canadian and other international pharmacies, according to research published on that compared prices on some of the top-selling generic drugs.

Eighty-eight percent of the top prescribed generics were cheaper in the United States than from Canada, according to a press release from the PharmacyChecker website. PharmacyChecker-accredited international online pharmacies process prescription drug orders that are filled by licensed pharmacies, which require a valid US prescription from American customers.

In its analysis of the 40 most commonly filled generic prescriptions in the United States, researchers at PharmacyChecker compared US pharmacy prices obtainable with a free drug discount card with prices at Canadian and other international pharmacies accredited in the PharmacyChecker Verification Program. For 6 of the 40 drugs, price comparisons were not possible because 2 are not available in Canada and 4 are controlled drugs, which are not permitted for sale into the United States by PharmacyChecker-verified sites. Among the remaining 34 generic drugs, prices were lower in the United States for 30 of the drugs. Prices to obtain these drugs locally were, on average, 68% lower at US pharmacies than from accredited Canadian pharmacies.

When the researchers expanded price comparisons to include PharmacyChecker-accredited pharmacies in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, and India, prices were generally lower than those from Canada but remained higher than prices in the United States, except for 4 drugs. However, for most of these medications, the differences were within $2 of the US price. Only pravastatin was considerably less expensive from a country other than the United States or Canada. The cost for 90 pravastatin pills was $22.50 shipped from Australia versus $37.77 in the United States or $137.31 from Canada.

Unlike brand name medications and first-to-market generics, which are granted 180 days of market exclusivity, there is intense price competition among multiple manufacturers for most other generic drugs in the United States. Although the Canadian Patented Medicine Prices Review Board controls the cost for medicines under patent, it does not control prices on generics. With the smaller Canadian market, fewer manufacturers compete, which explains higher generic drug prices in Canada, according to the press release.

In 2003, Congress passed the Medicare Modernization Act to allow US wholesalers and pharmacists to import prescription drugs from Canada, but only if the federal Department of Health and Human services authorizes it. Vermont was the first state in the country to enact a drug importation law, followed recently by Colorado. Florida officials are also expected to sign a similar law soon.

Eight percent of Americans say they have imported a medicine for personal use because of cost. Under the FDA’s practice of enforcement discretion, Americans are not prosecuted or fined for personal use quantities of medicine imports, despite the technical prohibition of federal law.

“Drug prices are too high for too many Americans, especially those who are uninsured or whose insurance doesn’t cover the medicines prescribed to them,” PharmacyChecker President Gabriel Levitt said in the release. “As Congress and the Trump administration, Democrats and Republicans, continue to debate and argue about legislation to bring down prices, Americans can really benefit from lower drug prices in other countries now. For too many, there is no other choice.”

PharmacyChecker-accredited international online pharmacies process prescription drug orders that are filled by licensed pharmacies. Pharmacies selling controlled drugs internationally to the United States are not eligible for accreditation. Accredited online pharmacies are verified and monitored for marketing claims, privacy policies, data security, pharmacist consultation availability, and other high standards of online pharmacy practice. PharmacyChecker conducts onsite inspections of pharmacies in several countries, including India, Mauritius, Singapore, and Turkey.

Shivam Patel, PharmD, director of the PharmacyChecker Verification Program, added “While I’m very proud of the work we do at PharmacyChecker to protect patients who go online looking for the safest international online pharmacies, as a US pharmacist, I’m thrilled to help patients stay local when they can.”

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