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Buying Epi-Pens™ in Canada: What You Need to Know

With the skyrocketing costs of epi-pens, many people are considering ordering them from pharmacies in Canada just like some do for other prescriptions. One mother obtained them at half the cost compared to prices in the U.S. This article also provides some helpful Websites so you can check to make sure the pharmacy you are ordering from is licensed. The question remains, why can the Canadian government negotiate price caps or lower prices with the manufacturers while in the U.S. drug companies set whatever price they want?

Parra Kids Between US and Canadian Flags
L to R: Dominic, Adam, Cameron and Joshua Parra.

Families Search for Lower-Cost Alternatives North of the Border

By Kristen Stewart
October 12th, 2016

We’ve all heard the numbers when it comes to the cost of the Epi-PenTM. Perhaps the only thing more shocking than the price jump of more than $500 in just eight years is the fact families are expected to pay over $600 for this life-saving medicine.

Mary Parra is one of those people. With a 10-year old son who has tree nut and peanut allergies and a 9-year-old son allergic to peanuts she was looking at a bill of almost $1,000 dollars to get her boys the medication they need. (It didn’t help they have different weights so she needed both an Epi-Pen and an Epi-Pen Jr.)

Her solution? Look to the north.

Recommended by several of her mother’s elderly friends, Mary found a pharmacy in Canada to fill her prescriptions and couldn’t have had a better experience. She chose to order online (phone and fax/mail orders are also accepted) and received a follow up call and email to discuss the medication and confirm she was receiving the correct item. The only minor hurdle was her pediatrician’s refusal to electronically send the prescription to a Canadian pharmacy but Mary was able to pick up the prescription, scan it and email it to the pharmacy herself. Total cost was $293 for two Epi-Pens received within a week or ordering.

Mary’s experience was a positive one but as with everything it’s good to do your homework first.

Generally speaking, medications in Canada are cheaper due to the way pricing is set. Canadian drugs cost less thanks to the government having negotiated a price cap or lower prices with the manufacturers unlike in the U.S. where companies set the cost. Approximately 5 million Americans take advantage of more affordable prescriptions available at international pharmacies according to a 2011 federal survey.

However, it’s important to realize officially it is against the law for individuals to import medications into the U.S. for personal use according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency warns consumers’ prescriptions from Canada may have originated somewhere else, could be counterfeit, contaminated or not the prescribed strength.

In reality, law enforcement typically uses discretion and chooses to focus their limited resources on pursuing large commercial drug suppliers and narcotics rather than people trying to save money on expensive personal prescriptions. In Florida there are even a number of storefront businesses that serve older people uncomfortable with the Internet and help them place their international orders.

Anyone considering buying prescriptions from Canada should begin with a visit to the website for the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA). For almost 15 years they have worked with regulators, pharmacists, physicians, patients, government and special interest groups to enhance the standards of mail-order pharmacies and protect patient safety and savings. The site offers the ability to verify an online pharmacy is CIPA approved and certified safe as well as a list of their approved online pharmacies.

Another good resource is PharmacyChecker.com which offers price comparisons from pharmacies around the world in addition to verifying if they are licensed, if privacy policies are in place and if personal and financial data is encrypted during transmission.

Some states including New York require prescriptions to be sent electronically except under certain circumstances. Fortunately, one of these exceptions is when the medication is to be dispensed by a pharmacy located out of the state (see Section 80.64 (5)).

Everyone hopes new epinephrine auto-injectors or other options will come on to the U.S. market and encourage more competitive pricing. In the meantime, however, if it means the difference between being able to afford a potentially life-saving medication or not having it on hand during an attack of anaphylaxis, Canadian pharmacies may be a good option for many families.

© Copyright Allergy Advocacy Association 2016.

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