NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 30, 2009

Americans should be vigilant when shopping for drugs online, says Devon Herrick, a senior fellow of the National Center for Policy Analysis.  There are numerous legitimate companies that offer convenience and low prices; however, there are also unscrupulous vendors who are not what they purport to be, says Herrick. 

This is especially true of foreign Web sites, says Herrick:

  • The risk of receiving a counterfeit drug when dealing with a foreign Web site is tremendous.
  • Instead, Americans wanting to save money have opportunities to take advantage of low prices on generic drugs at Wal-Mart, Target, and numerous other sources.
  • Some insurance companies encourage their customers to purchase medications at a lower price from Web sites selling prescription drugs from foreign countries such as India, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Yet, analysts warn that this practice is dangerous for insurers and consumers alike:

  • If you're buying drugs outside of the United States, it becomes a "buyer beware" situation.
  • It's a high-risk proposition; sometimes you get a drug that has too much or too little of the active ingredient in the medicine or one that has poisonous compounds.
  • Any U.S.-based insurance company that is recommending that its clientele source their drug outside of the United States is not only breaking the law, they are putting their customers at peril.

Greg Scandlen, director of Consumers for Health Care Choices at the Heartland Institute, says allowing drug manufacturers to sell directly to consumers from their Web sites would be one way to avoid the problem of people unwittingly purchasing dangerous drugs. 

"In my opinion, purchasing drugs online or from other countries is not as attractive today as it was a few years ago, because of the exchange rate," Scandlen said. "Those savings were all based on a strong U.S. dollar and weak Canadian dollar. Nowadays, you buy a lot less in Canada for one dollar than before."

Source: Aricka Flowers, "Foreign Counterfeit Drugs Pose Increasing Threat," Health Care News (Heartland Institute), January 2009.


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