Maine Legalizes International Purchase of Prescription Medications


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Allowing Canadian Pharmacies to fill prescriptions is projected to save the state of Maine over 3 million dollar annually in prescription costs for state employees. Non-state-employees will benefit as well. Image by Jirik

U.S. Drugs vs. International Medications

Other countries sell medications that are not sold in the US, and vice versa, and each determines what is prescription only and what can be purchased without a prescription. Each country also has its own research and development process, and its own certification process to deem a drug legal within the country – and its own methods of manufacture.

The FDA has developed current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) designed to ensure any medication sold in the United States is safe for consumer use, stating, “Consumers expect that each batch of medicines they take will meet quality standards so that they will be safe and effective.”

These cGMPs ensure that every bottle of medication is created in a clean environment, is a consistent dosage and strength, is free from contaminants, is labeled properly, and is stored and transported in a safe manner.

Unfortunately not all other countries follow these practices. The end result may or may not be a dangerous drug. However, just because a drug company does not comply with cGMPs that does not mean a drug is unsafe, it just means the FDA cannot guarantee its safety or quality.

Current FDA laws (The United States Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. sections 331(d), and 355(a)) say buying medications overseas and bringing them into the US is illegal.

The FDA website states that the “FDA cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness of products that are not FDA-approved and come from unknown sources and foreign locations, or that may not have been manufactured under proper conditions. These unknowns put patient’s health at risk if they cannot be sure of the products identity, purity, and source. For these reasons, FDA recommends only obtaining medicines from legal sources in the U.S.

So, are Canadian Pharmacies Safe?

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) based in Cambridge, Massachusetts did a study of three tiers of online pharmacies. Tier 1 are certified by the US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) or, tier 2 are certified by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) or, and tier 3 are not certified by any of the above.

CIPA is an association of licensed retail pharmacies in Canada regulated by the Canadian government. They sell 90 day supplies of medications made by companies such as Pfizer, Merck, and Eli Lilly that also manufacturer medications for US pharmacies.

The NBER study found tier 2 pharmacies, including those certified by CIPA, sold medications 49.2% cheaper on average than US pharmacies, and all medications tested from tier 2 pharmacies were authentic.

CIPA certified pharmacies provide prescriptions for more than 1 million US patients annually and follow the same rules and processes as US mail order pharmacies. A prescription is required from the patient’s physician and a licensed pharmacist reviews all prescriptions before sending the medication to a patient.

Safe, Cheaper Online Medications

Consumers who cannot afford US priced prescriptions have alternatives. Taking advantage of the prices regulated by a national healthcare system such as the one in Canada and the United Kingdom can save individuals hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on medications each year. However, you should always use caution and check accrediting agencies such the NABP in the US, and CIPA in Canada when purchasing medications overseas or online to ensure the quality and safety of a purchase.


Associated Press. Maine legalizes prescription drug imports. (2013). Accessed July 15, 2013.

Bate, Roger.; Zhe Jin, Ginger; Mathur, Aparna.  In Whom We Trust: The Role of Certification Agencies in Online Drug Markets. (2013). NBER Working Paper No. 17955. Accessed July 15, 2013.

Canadian International Pharmacy Association. Accessed July 15, 2013.

FDA.  Facts About Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). Accessed July 12, 2013.

FDA.  Information on Importation of Drugs. Prepared by the Division of Import Operations and Policy, FDA.  Accessed July 15, 2013.

FDA. Traveler’s Alert. Accessed July 15, 2013.

PRWEB. An Important Win for Drug Affordability in Maine Should be a Call to Action for All U.S. Citizens, State the Canadian Pharmacy. (2013). Winnipeg, Manitoba. Accessed July 15, 2013.

Rovner, Julie.  Maine Once Again Allows Mail-Order Canadian Drugs To Cut Costs. (2013). Accessed July 15, 2013.

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