Five tips to buying prescription drugs from America's favored pharmacy: Canada

Maybe I should be writing this from an underground bunker. It's true that I have an overactive imagination, but I can't help but half-wonder if the American pharmaceutical industry will read this post and then send some overgrown thug named Knuckles to have a talk with me.

Because, you know, they tend to not like it when Americans go get their medications from Canada. But, oh, well, here it is.

I recently learned about eDrugSearch, a free search engine where you can shop for medications with vetted pharmacies in Canada and other nations.

These pharmacies are all licensed and accredited, and of course, the appeal to going to a web site like this is, as spokesperson Melissa Syphrett told me, "so you can be sure you're dealing with a true pharmacy and not a storefront selling fake drugs."

It does sound like a smart place for consumers to go, given all the confusion that can result from looking on your own for a pharmacy that has a non-American address. But if you do explore the Internet on your own, looking for prescription drugs sold internationally,'s founder Cary Byrd, who is based in San Antonio, has the following five tips:

Never choose a pharmacy based on a spam solicitation. "Legitimate online pharmacies respect your personal and financial privacy," says Byrd. "They don't spam you, sell your information to third parties or use unencrypted technologies for conducting financial transactions." But Byrd forgets to mention something else, that in this day and age, given what we all know about spam, if you do choose a pharmacy based on a random email that comes into your email box, you are a complete moron. No offense.

Make sure the pharmacy requires a prescription, your medical history and your doctor's contact information.
Sure, it's inconvenient to get all of that stuff. But, says Byrd, if they don't ask, they're breaking the law, and if they don't care about the law, they probably don't care enough about you.

Call the pharmacy and ask to speak to a pharmacist or physician. "Every web site should have a brick-and mortar pharmacy where it fills your prescription, with a registered pharmacist or licensed physician on hand to ensure you receive the correction medication and to answer any questions you have might have," says Byrd. "If an online pharmacy does not display its location and contact information prominently, go someplace else. An email address is not sufficient."

Verify that the pharmacy has a valid license. "Every online pharmacy should have a license in its home state or in the case of Canada, province," says Byrd. "Locate the pharmacy's license number on its web site and the name of the regulatory agency that granted the license. Call or e-mail the regulatory to confirm the license authenticity."

Look for the seal of one of the major verification authorities. The good online pharmacies in virtually every case have a membership seal by a third-party organization: IMPAC, CIPA, VIPPS, Pharmacy Checker, MIPA or the NCPA. But because crooks tend to not play nice, they sometimes will put those seals on their fake web sites -- so you literally should go to the organization's web site and put the pharmacy's name in the search engine to see if it's there.

And, of course, you're probably wondering -- can I do this? Is it legal? I started wondering that, as I was writing this. But I think the answer is best said at the web site for eDrugSearch:

"U.S. citizens are commonly allowed to purchase drugs for their own use from Canada or other foreign pharmacies so long as they abide by the guidelines set out by the FDA. The FDA allows federal officials to use "discretion" in permitting imports because they realize the task of monitoring all drug imports is too overwhelming."

The web site goes on to say that you are "generally" allowed to purchase drugs abroad as long it's for personal use, not a controlled substance, and it's less than a 90-day supply. And then suggest that for more information, you visit the FDA's web site.

So I read that language as: "No, it's not legal, but as far as getting busted, you have better odds of learning how to time travel." Let's put it this way. Even though the FDA doesn't like it, the city government of Duluth, Minnesota currently has a plan in place to import Canadian drugs.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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