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Is it Legal to Import Prescription Drugs into the U.S.

Published: 2010-02-04
Author: Disabled World

Synopsis: Article examines the legality of importing prescription drugs into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico.

Main Digest

The practice of importing drugs from Mexico, Canada, or other countries is still technically illegal in the United States, but for years US citizens living near the Canadian border have crossed into Canada to buy prescription drugs...


With today's ever increasing health care costs, patients, employers, and insurers are looking for any way possible to save money, and one of those is slashing drug costs. For example, the price of a brand-name medication sold in Canada can be as much as 55% less than what the identical drug is sold for in America.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website states - As a general matter, it is illegal to import an unapproved drug into the United States, whether for personal use or otherwise. The FDA, however, has a policy under which it typically does not object to personal imports of unapproved drugs under certain circumstances, including:

The drug is for use for a serious condition for which effective treatment is not available in the United States.

There is no commercialization or promotion of the drug to U.S. residents.

The drug is considered not to represent an unreasonable risk.

The individual importing the drug verifies in writing that it is for his or her own use, and provides contact information for the doctor providing treatment or shows the product is for the continuation of treatment begun in a foreign country.

Generally, not more than a 3-month supply of the drug is imported.

Also from the FDA web site: "Don't purchase from foreign web sites at this time because generally it will be illegal to import the drugs bought from these sites, the risks are greater, and there is very little the U.S. government can do if you get ripped off."

"The agency doesn't go after individuals, per se," says the director of pharmacy affairs for the FDA. "The agency has tended to focus its priorities on people making money from this illegal activity."

From the BMJ Web Site:

"The US Department of Homeland Security, which operates the Customs and Border Protection Agency, said that from 9 October 2006 it would stop the confiscation of prescription drugs mailed from Canadian internet pharmacies to US citizens." and "...the US Congress agreed to allow US citizens visiting Canada to buy and bring back legally a 90 day supply of prescription drugs for personal use."


The Customs service warns that "when the type of drug, the quantity, or the combination of various drugs arouse suspicions, U.S. Customs inspectors will ordinarily contact the nearest FDA or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office for advice and will then make a final determination about whether to release or detain the article."

US customs statistics on mail order seizures show that at least 10% of packages purportedly from Canadian internet pharmacies contain counterfeit drugs.

There you have it - The answer is muddied by a set of interlocking rules and regulations...

NOTE: Although as current and accurate as possible, this article should not be considered as legal advice and you should check with a legal expert if you have any questions related to obtaining or ordering online drugs or from Canada, Mexico, or other foreign country.

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Cite This Page (APA): Disabled World. (2010, February 4). Is it Legal to Import Prescription Drugs into the U.S.. Disabled World. Retrieved September 26, 2021 from