Aired: March 1
Audience: 11 million viewers worldwide
Reporter: Kevin Tibbles
Title: Crossing the border for medication
U.S. consumers look north and south for lower prices
Introduction: Many Americans are buying their prescription drugs in Canada or Mexico, or over the Internet. As NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports, they often pay 50% less than they would in the U.S.
In Southern California many Americans get their prescriptions filled in Mexico because many drugs are cheaper there. Now the Internet is helping other Americans do the same thing in Canada. But are there risks?
IT'S NOT YOUR typical bus trip for a group of retirees from Tucson, Ariz. They are crossing the border to Nogales, Mexico, on what they jokingly call a "drug run," to a pharmacy, buying prescription drugs at a fraction of the price back in the United States.
But now there is another route to cheap meds: online. In Minneapolis, Steve Arundel doesn't leave his living room, buying over the Internet from Canada medication he used to pay $350 for every month. At Canadameds.com, that price is slashed in half.
"The savings for one year is probably in excess of $2,000," says Arundel.
Why is medication so much cheaper in Canada? It's because the government there limits what drug companies can charge. In the U.S. they charge what the market will bear.
Canadian pharmacies with Web sites can sell the same pills to Americans at up to 90 percent less.
"We've seen our business grow from where we were doing a half a million a year to doing over $4 million a month," says Daren Jorgenson of Canadameds.com.
Just how much can you save? Stateside, a 90-day supply of the arthritis drug Celebrex sells for $197. In Canada, the same drug is $90. Lipitor, for high cholesterol is $241 in the U.S., $132 in Canada, and Tamoxifen, a breast cancer treatment is $287 in the U.S., only $28 in Canada
Some doctors are even helping seniors get cheap meds, faxing prescriptions to Canada. Vermont's United Health Alliance even supplies the order forms. It's a grassroots effort, with some doctors ignoring U.S. law, unwilling to make their patients wait for lower drug costs.
"They can't wait, they can't wait," says Dr. Elizabeth Wenner, of the United Health Alliance. "They can die though. And I'm not gonna sit around and think that I waited or watched. I will do something to make a difference."
It's against the law to import drugs of any kind into this country. But in this case, the FDA is not prosecuting. Instead it is simply warning buyers to beware.
"You don't know whether the country from which the drug is coming from has controls in place to ensure the product is safe," says Peggy Dotzel of the FDA.
But consumers like Steve Arundel say that until prices come down, he'll buy Canadian. And he has this prescription for U.S. drug makers:
"Quit digging your hand so deep in the cookie jar," says Arundel.
USA WEEKEND MAGAZINE
Jan. 22, 2006
51 million readers, appears in 600 newspapers nationwide