Sort-Of Legal Drug Trade:
When 67-year-old Douglaston resident Peter McMann walked into a local pharmacy to fill a prescription for Nexium, he nearly choked when he heard the price.
guy told me it was going to cost almost $400,” the retired bank teller
said. “I just have heartburn. What am I buying, a new heart?”
has no prescription drug coverage on Medicare. He told the Tribune,
“I can’t afford to pay for pills every few months . . . These bills are
making my heartburn worse than the medicine is making me better.”
reaction is common across the borough and across the country as prescription
drug prices continue to climb. People like McMann who rely on Medicare learn
quickly that it doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage.
don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m on a fixed income now and I
need medicine. What am I supposed to do? I’ve called elected officials,
I’ve called local boards. There’s nowhere to turn.”
The demand for an affordable solution has resulted in an innovative solution – drugs imported from Canada.
April, two new storefront businesses have opened in Queens to offer an
international alternative for buying prescription drugs.
in Bayside and Forest Hills, the stores allow Queens residents to buy
prescription drugs from Canada – a country with a socialized form of
medical care and a cap on prescription drug prices.
Rx Mart of Canada in Forest Hills and Rx International Discount Drugs From
Canada in Bayside aren’t pharmacies and don’t carry pills. They only act
as middle men, processing prescriptions through certified Canadian
pharmacies – pharmacies that sell drugs at prices up to 80 percent less
than in the United States.
owners of both stores got the idea in Florida, where there are “discount
pharmacies on every corner,” according to Jon Robinson, one of two owners
of Discount Rx Mart of Canada.
Grossman, the owner of Rx International Discount Drugs From Canada added,
“There’s such a population [in Florida] that these stores are
commonplace. It was time to bring them here to New York, where there is a
market but no options.”
Although the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is battling such businesses and questioning their safety and legality, independent studies by the Congressional Research Service have concluded that drugs shipped from Canada are held to high safety standards, and experts say that not one person in the nation has ever been prosecuted for drug reimportation.
to Michael Weissman, an owner of the Forest Hills store that opened April
21, the problem of prescription drug prices is one that residents —
especially seniors — have been struggling with for years, and one that has
gotten “completely out of hand.”
said, “The pharmaceutical companies are the biggest, most profitable
companies in the world. They’re making billions and billions of dollars
for a reason, and that reason is they pretty much have a lock on the United
States market place.”
added, “They charge an exorbitant amount of money for medication, and they
get away with it because out of all those billions of dollars, they spend a
large amount on lobbying Congress and the FDA. These companies are making a
fortune on the backs of senior citizens.”
spokesperson for Congressman Anthony Weiner said he couldn’t comment on
the lobbying, but said, “The Congressman is keenly aware of the problems
with prescription drug prices. . .
Every time he speaks at a senior center, this is the number one
issue. It’s one of his first priorities.”
biggest factor in the problem is that Medicare does not include prescription
drug coverage, the spokesperson said. According to Weiner’s office, about
40 percent of seniors in the United States – or about 11 million – have
no drug coverage.
report conducted by Weiner’s office concluded that prescription drug
prices are, in some cases, 10 times higher in the United States than in
other nations, including Canada. The spokesperson said, “The Congressman
wants to know why American seniors have to suffer like this.”
have been made in both the Senate and House of Representatives to either add
prescription drug coverage to Medicare or to allow the importation of drugs
there is a federal law banning anyone except a United States pharmaceutical
manufacturer from importing prescription drugs, but it isn’t enforced.
latest federal effort to legalize the importation of drugs is a bill that
passed the Senate on June 20 and would make importation legal. Although it
passed 62 to 28, and is the second bill the Senate has passed on the matter
in a year, the Bush administration made it clear through public statements
that it will not sign the bill.
the administration and the FDA are supporting legislation that would alter
Medicare to add prescription drug coverage . . . something experts on the
topic believe is in the FDA’s own interest.
Congressional source told the Tribune, “If Medicare has a drug
policy, the government will subsidize it. It will allow the drug companies
to keep their prices high and give the bill to the government. If
importation is made fully and completely legal, then there is competition,
and their prices will have to pull downward.”
two Canadian prescription stores opened within two weeks of each other and
provide basically the same service – they take prescription information,
fax it to the Canadian pharmacy that they’re affiliated with, have the
prescription filled and then shipped directly to the customer’s home,
charging the customer the Canadian price for the drugs with no additional
stores make money through commissions from the Canadian pharmacies.
all instances, a Canadian doctor looks over the prescriptions before
they’re filled and can communicate with the customer’s American doctor
if necessary. Customers also are given access to the Canadian pharmacy if
they have any questions.
stores only accept credit cards because of the international aspect of the
purchase, estimate a two to three week wait for shipment, will not ship
controlled substances such as Valium or Percocet and will only sell up to
three months worth of medication. Weissman said, “There’s sort of a
sketchy rule that you can only ship 90 days worth of medication through the
border, so we abide by it.”
in her spacious, living-room-like
office, Grossman said, “This service has been available online, but
I think when you’re dealing with seniors, many of them don’t have
computers or don’t know how to use them, and it’s foreign. Here, they
can talk to someone face to face, they can ask questions, and I think that
makes them feel better.”
agreed from a black leather chair in his cozy office on Queens Boulevard.
“We’re here to help people. That’s why we got into this.”
second potential problem that the FDA discusses about discount prescription
drugs from Canada is whether it’s legal to ship them. The FDA claims
it’s illegal, but according to Congressman Joseph Crowley’s office, no
person has ever been prosecuted or charged in the “crime.”
law that prohibits the importation of drugs is the Federal Food, Drug and
Cosmetic Act, which permits only licensed United States drug manufacturers
to import drugs. The act faults companies that import the drugs, as well as
those who order them.
owners of local Queens pharmacies maintain that importing drugs is illegal
and are angry that businesses are able to make money from it. The owner of
one established Queens pharmacy said, “These people are stealing business
from us illegally. Whether the laws are enforced or not is not the issue.
This is illegal, and they’re making money off of it.”
owner of a second Queens business said, “There’s no gray area. It’s
completely illegal. People need to know this . . . I’m an honest guy,
trying to make a living. I’m not some evil pharmaceutical company. I sell
the prescriptions for the market price. Why should I lose customers because
these guys don’t follow the law?”
United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has raised questions about
the safety of Canadian drugs.
said, “They just want to scare people. All the pills get shipped in sealed
bottles straight from the manufacturer. Nothing gets toyed with. If someone
receives a bottle of opened pills, I certainly would not want them to take
an FDA spokesperson said, “The problem is there’s no way we can
guarantee the safety of these drugs. As long as that’s the case, we
can’t condone their use.”
International Discount Drugs from Canada can be reached at 718-224-5150 and
will have a website up and running shortly.
Discount Rx Mart of Canada can be reached either at (718) 268-1777 or (866) 550-6337. Their website is located at www.discountrxmartofcanada.com.