Imagine the gut-wrenching feeling of having to choose between paying your house rent or your life-saving medication. Unfortunately, this is the bitter shock and reality the average American faces given the exorbitant total of prescription medicine.

Prescription drug prices in the US are outrageously high, forcing patients to seek an alternative elsewhere. Millions of Americans are now turning to their neighbors up north in Canada to buy the same medications at a fraction of the cost.

But why Canada?

First, the prescription drugs in America are almost triple that of Canada. No kidding! So, why such a sky-high price gap? The Canadian government regulates drug costs to keep the medications affordable for its Citizens.
The US health care system? Not so much. This sad reality has driven about 2 million Americans to seek prescription medications from licensed Canadian pharmacies. Most of these prescriptions are for diabetes, blood pressure, antidepressants, and more.

Read on to understand the ‘why’ behind Americans’ prescription pilgrimage north and what you should know before joining the northern caravan, from the dramatic cost savings to the legal considerations as well as the safety tips for ordering these drugs.

As mentioned above, the rising cost of drugs in America is one of the main reasons Americans buy their prescription drugs from Canada. The U.S. records the highest prescription drug prices, 2.56 times more than any other
developed country globally. Unfortunately, this trend is growing each year.

A Commonwealth Fund report found that the average annual spending per person on prescription drugs in the United States was twice as high as the average price across 11 other high-income countries in 2019. The study also found that Americans paid the highest prices for many popular brand-name drugs.

Yet another report by GoodRx ranked an increase in the average list price for more than 500 drugs from 2014 to 2019, with some reporting cost increases of as high as over a thousand percent. These burgeoning costs largely arise from unsuccessful price regulation and negotiation in America. The pharmaceutical industry’s dominance in the market and policies are also another contributing factor.

As a consequence of the exorbitant prescription cost in the US, the health and wellness of its citizens have greatly been compromised. There are increased worse health outcomes, higher hospitalizations, and increased costs on healthcare as a whole. These high drug prices also impact people’s psychological and emotional well-being by
inducing increased stress levels, anxiety, and feelings of depression.
In a nutshell, the out-of-control pharmaceutical costs in the United States are debarring people from critical drugs and necessities. As a result, more and more Americans are motivated to opt for cheaper alternatives in Canada.

The Benefits of Buying Prescription Medications from Canada

One of the many benefits Americans get from buying their
prescription medicines from Canada is the reduced prices. Canada has a system that oversees the price regulation of these drugs,
ensuring accessibility and affordability for its citizens.

The board that reviews and monitors the prices of drugs in Canada is called the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB). This board ensures that citizens do not buy these drugs at excessive or unreasonable prices.

PMPRB also compares the prices of drugs sold in Canada with those in other countries, such as France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. When a drug is found to be overpriced or above the median of these countries, then the PMPRB orders the lowering of the prices from the manufacturer. If not, they have to pay up the excess revenue collected.

How Much Are Americans Saving by Buying Drugs from Canada?

Americans save a whopping 90% when they buy drugs from Canada. That’s especially true for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. These conditions require expensive and long-term treatments and can take up a huge chunk of money for drug prescriptions.

An example is a 2018 PubMed report showing Americans with
diabetic conditions save about $2700 yearly by buying insulin from Canada. In the US, insulin vial costs increased to 10.3% compared to the same insulin in Canada with only 0.01%. Other advantages of ordering drugs online from Canadian pharmacies include:

Some Canadian online pharmacies even go a step further to offer consultation and provide advice on drug interactions and side effects through their licensed pharmacists.

The Risks of Buying Prescription Medications from Canada

While tapping into Canada’s lower drug costs could provide real savings, it’s not immune to safety and efficacy issues. It is, therefore, wise for all consumers to invest time in careful vetting pharmacies beforehand.

Major institutions like the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) also caution that ordering medications from outside the United States can expose patients to dangerous, counterfeit, contaminated, or otherwise substandard drugs.

Here are some of the risks that come with buying prescription medications from Canada:

How to Ensure Your Ideal Pharmacy Follows Ethical Practices and Comply with Regulations

Some pharmacies operating beyond U.S. jurisdiction may cut corners in alarming ways. For instance, they may dispense expired or improperly stored medications, sell unapproved generic drugs, fill prescriptions without a doctor’s oversight, or traffic in counterfeit products created in unsanitary conditions. You should therefore not take an online pharmacy at face value. Here’s to vet online pharmacies online:

Look for Accreditation Seals

Not every internet drugstore claiming to be "Canadian" actually operates out of Canada. Deceptive online pharmacies may also fraudulently use the Canadian flag and maple leaf to appear legitimate. To avoid falling victim to these sham operators, only order from pharmacies accredited through the Canadian International Pharmacy Association or PharmacyChecker Verification Program.


Confirm True Canadian Operation

Beware of websites with no listed address or phone number in Canada. Any reputable pharmacies will prominently display this contact information along with licenses from provincial pharmacy authorities. Checking for the ".pharmacy" domain extension can further assure credibility.


Require Valid Prescriptions

Don't order from sites that don't require a doctor's prescription. This should be a huge red flag. Any legitimate pharmacy will have licensed and knowledgeable pharmacists available to assist you.

As much as the prices are inviting when buying prescription medicine from Canada, that route comes with some serious risks. So, when buying, consumers should practice diligence and patience and watch out for any red flags.

The Legal Aspects of Buying Prescription Medications from Canada

While many Americans may assume that importing drugs from Canada for personal use is legal or tolerated, the reality is more complex and uncertain. As such, it’s recommended to familiarize yourself with the legal status of this practice in the US.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act considers it illegal to import drugs that are not approved by the FDA or that do not meet the FDA’s safety, effectiveness, and quality standards. This rule applies to everyone, including consumers. This rule also applies to most, if not all, drugs sold in Canada, even if they are identical to those sold in the US.
However, if an individual has a serious condition that cannot be treated with an available US drug, the FDA grants them a special permit to import that unapproved drug. It’s very rare, though, as it requires a doctor’s prescription and an FDA application.

These legal prohibitions have, however, not stopped millions of Americans from buying drugs from Canada every year without facing legal consequences. This is because authorities like the FDA, Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have limited resources to enforce the law against individual consumers importing small drug quantities for personal use.

Another reason is that these authorities usually prioritize larger-scale or commercial importation, posing a greater public health or national security threat. They also exercise discretion when dealing with consumers who import drugs for legitimate medical reasons or financial hardship.

Legalizing Cross-Border
Drug Purchases

Some recent developments have emerged recently that aim at legalizing or facilitating cross-border drug purchases.
These are:
While there are efforts to make drug importation from Canada possible, there is still a big legal grey area for US consumers. Safe and affordable drugs are beneficial if importation is legalized, but there are implications for intellectual property rights, regulatory standards, and the drug industry.


Every citizen deserves affordable medicines. Nevertheless, the shocking cost of prescription medications in America has left many without much choice but to seek reprieve from alternatives like Canada.

Buying drugs from Canada for many Americans offers huge savings. But this activity is neither legal nor illegal, as authorities often overlook or tolerate such personal imports.

There are, however, risks that consumers can not overlook when purchasing these drugs which
include safety. That’s why it’s wise to use only reputable pharmacies in Canada. And until reforms arrive in the US, Canada remains a lifeline for patients looking for cheap medication – if done carefully. Overall, urgent action is needed so critical medications are accessible for all in the US.

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