When it comes to drug discounts, it may be too good to be legal

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Medication costs have increased dramatically in the last decade and our senior population has been hit the hardest and worst. As our elected officials debate the best plan to aid our elders, many of our seniors are forced into drastic measures to pay for their medications. As a pharmacist and an active community member, I am concerned about the use of Canadian pharmacies to obtain medications.

On June 17, the Peninsula Clarion ran a full-page advertisement promoting Canadian pharmacies. There are some very alarming and gross misconceptions about obtaining medications through these businesses.

As many may not know, it is illegal for a Canadian pharmacy to dispense medications to a patient in the state of Alaska. Canadian pharmacies are not licensed by the state Board of Pharmacy in Alaska and therefore have no license to practice in Alaska.

Furthermore, Canadian physicians take the prescription and re-write it without ever seeing the patient and violate the very important physician-patient relationship. Many of these physicians will miss vital patient information not accessible to them by a direct patient interview.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have both issued statements opposing importation of medications from a foreign country including Canada due to very real safety concerns.

The FDA evaluated 727 Internet medications mailed to patients in Nevada and found that 8 percent were not identifiable, and many more were not approved for use in the United States or were inappropriately labeled.

The FDA was also concerned about the use of many of the medications without physician supervision. This study can be found in the policy statement on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Web site (www.nabp.net). Because these pharmacies are not licensed in states, the NABP cautions consumers that there is no corresponding liability with these pharmacies, should a mistake or problem occur.

Even the Canadian Pharmacists Association is opposed to the importation of drugs from Canada via the Internet (see www.NACDS.org under press releases).

Besides the obvious safety and legal concerns, many pharmacists feel that a vital part of the pharmacist-patient relationship is lost in these practices.

As a profession, we take pride in educating our patients, consulting with prescribers and screening orders for drug interactions or irregularities. Without contact with a licensed pharmacist, the safety and quality of pharmacy services is compromised.

Many pharmacies and pharmacists offer senior discounts and help patients sign up with programs that can lessen the burden of their medication costs through patient assistance. Utilizing these programs and working with our legislators to develop a Medicare drug benefit are the best ways to help our seniors.

Please be careful and be informed when considering programs that offer striking discounts. If it seems too good to be true, it just may be too

good to be true or legal.

For more information, please look at these other Web sites or contact your local pharmacy (www.fda.gov/cder/consumerinfo/border.htm, www.aphanet.org).

Timothy W. Cutler, Pharm.D., Soldotna

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