Consumer import of prescription drugs

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Consumer import of prescription drugs refers to an individual person, typically a patient, getting prescription drugs from a foreign country for their own personal use in their own country.

Import mechanisms[edit]

People might have drugs shipped to them from online pharmacies. They may travel internationally for the purpose of medical tourism, and purchase drugs there to be used back home.


Individual consumers will only consider seeking drugs from other countries if they have some barrier to access in their own country. One barrier to access is high local prices compared to other markets. Another barrier to access could be legal restrictions preventing an individual from getting a drug they want or need.

International drug market prices[edit]

In some markets, drug prices are set or influenced by the prices in other, nearby markets.[1] In Europe, for example, people freely and easily travel to different countries, and the price of a certain drug in one country affects the price in other, nearby countries.[1] Having this kind of competitive exchange can keep prices low, but it can also lead to lowered drug accessibility.[1] Sometimes a manufacturer may choose not to offer a drug in one market, to ensure success in selling the drug at a higher price in a different market.[1]

Businesses, manufacturers and drug retailers wish to control the supply of pharmaceuticals in their own marketplace.[2] As such, if low-cost drugs entered a market from other lower-cost territories, what might develop is pure price-based selling.[2] The TRIPS agreement is an example of a World Trade Organization treaty which regulates how drugs can be traded in the international marketplace.[2]

Some developing countries might receive access to lower-cost drugs through compulsory licenses.[3] Compulsory licenses affect markets outside the country in which they are issued.[3]

Variation in legality[edit]

Drugs which are legal in one place may not be legal in another.

By region[edit]

Canada to United States[edit]

People in the United States have easy access to Canada. The quality of medicine in Canada is comparable to that of the United States. Drug prices are often much lower in Canada than in the United States. To save money, some consumers in the United States seek to purchase drugs in Canada. Different people have published different perspectives on this practice.[4]

One major on-line supplier,, has announced it will close on July 13, 2018 as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.[5]

Society and culture[edit]

Petition for government reform[edit]

Consumers may feel that prescription drugs which are available to multiple countries to be of equivalent quality, and feel comfortable buying and using drugs by choosing to purchase from the country which offers the drugs at the lowest price.

Legal status[edit]

Governments typically oversee the import of prescription drugs so bringing a prescription drug from a foreign country could be Illegal drug trade.


  1. ^ a b c d Vogler, Sabine; Paris, Valérie; Ferrario, Alessandra; Wirtz, Veronika J.; de Joncheere, Kees; Schneider, Peter; Pedersen, Hanne Bak; Dedet, Guillaume; Babar, Zaheer-Ud-Din (6 January 2017). "How Can Pricing and Reimbursement Policies Improve Affordable Access to Medicines? Lessons Learned from European Countries". Applied Health Economics and Health Policy. doi:10.1007/s40258-016-0300-z.
  2. ^ a b c Pashkov, VM; Golovanova, IA; Olefir, AA (2016). "The impact of the legal regime of intellectual property protection in the pharmaceutical market". Wiadomosci lekarskie (Warsaw, Poland : 1960). 69 (3 pt 2): 582–586. PMID 27717949.
  3. ^ a b Stavropoulou, Charitini; Valletti, Tommaso (10 January 2014). "Compulsory licensing and access to drugs". The European Journal of Health Economics. 16 (1): 83–94. doi:10.1007/s10198-013-0556-2.
  4. ^ Shepherd, M (July 2007). "Drug importation and safety of drugs obtained from Canada". The Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 41 (7): 1288–91. doi:10.1345/aph.1k249. PMID 17578879.
  5. ^