Maine Legalizes International Purchase of Prescription Medications

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By Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA (Pharmacy  Uploaded by Princess Mérida) , via Wikimedia Commons

Should we import drugs from Canada and other countries? Maine has now legalized purchases from international pharmacies. Image by Marcus Quigmire

On June 28, 2013, The Maine State Senate passed a law making it legal for residents of that state to purchase their medications from licensed international pharmacies, like CanaRx in Canada.

The law, LD 171, is titled “An Act to Facilitate the Licensing of International Mail Order Prescription Pharmacies by the Maine Board of Pharmacy.”

The new law will take affect 90 days from the day it was passed, and is designed to provide US citizens more affordable ways to obtain their medications legally and safely.

In 2012, Maine Attorney General William Schneider ruled that Maine citizens could not purchase drugs from international pharmacies since the international pharmacies could not be licensed in the US – but that’s all changed now.

Prescription Drug Safety

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. When Decoded Science interviewed Mary S. Schwartz, a consultant pharmacist in South Florida on June 29, she expressed her serious reservations.

It’s not just Canada. The Maine law allows for licensing from any country. What about China? The US just had a huge issue with lead paint found in children’s toys made in China. Would you really trust a medication from China that isn’t regulated by our health laws?” For years the US has said purchasing drugs overseas is risky, why are they changing their minds now?

Pharmacies and Medications: Licensing and Purchasing in the U.S.

Currently, all pharmacies operating in the United States are subject to both state and federal licensing and regulations.

  • Each state licenses pharmacies within their state lines to carry non-habit forming medications called legend drugs. Legend drugs are only available in the US by prescription, and include antibiotics, blood pressure and diabetes medications.
  • The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) then issues each store a separate DEA license to carry controlled substance prescriptions such as opiate pain medications, hypnotic sleeping pills, and barbituates.

By Bill Branson (Photographer) , via Wikimedia Commons

By just looking at a medication, the consumer cannot tell what it is, what is in it, or if it contains anything harmful. Image by Bill Branson

Our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a process that includes years of clinical trials required for each new medication. Pharmaceutical companies fund this development process with the proceeds from new medications:

  • For roughly the first ten years any new medication is on the market, it is sold as “brand name” only, and only the drug company that developed the medication may sell it.
  • During this time the drug company sells its brand name medication for a premium price in the US, often making medications very expensive and difficult to afford for consumers.

CanaRX, a Canadian mail order pharmacy, had been filling prescriptions for Maine citizens since 2004, but without those state and federal licenses. Canada, like the United Kingdom and the European Union, regulates drug prices as part of their national health care system, allowing CanaRx to charge much less than the US for the same medication.

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