The legality may be open to question, but that isn’t preventing businesses that help consumers buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs from entering the East Valley market.
Canadian Expressway, a Shawnee, Okla.-based company, has designated an east Mesa resident, Diana Gavel, to be its Arizona representative to help seniors save money on medications.
Canadian Expressway bills itself as an information service center providing prices on medications from three licensed Canadian pharmacies and two from the United States, giving consumers a chance to compare prices and pick the cheapest supplier. All the customer needs is to provide a written doctor’s prescription and fill out a form that outlines his or her medical history.
The actual transaction takes place with the pharmacy in Canada. Canadian Expressway will send the patient’s information to the Canadian pharmacy and is paid a commission by the Canadian pharmacy. So the consumer doesn’t have to pay a fee to Canadian Expressway for facilitating the purchase.
The drugs are delivered directly to the customer in about two weeks by the U.S. Postal Service.
The company promises savings of 70 percent or more compared with the cost of buying the same medicines in the United States.
"I see so many seniors pay an exorbitant amount for prescriptions," Gavel said. "They don’t have a (health) plan or can’t afford insurance, but they need the medicines."
While Canadian drugs may be cheaper, it’s also technically illegal to import them because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t inspect them and can’t assure their quality or safety. Advocates of importation respond that Canada, which like many other countries controls the price of medicines, has high quality standards, and many of the drugs are actually made in the United States.
"If they’re so unsafe, where are all the dead customers?" said Robert Allen, owner of Blue Marble Meds, a Fountain Hills-based facilitator of Canadian drug purchases.
Hal Wand, executive director of the Arizona Board of Pharmacy, takes the position the facilitators are operating illegally, and he has referred about a dozen of the businesses to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for possible legal action.
He said the board itself doesn’t have regulatory jurisdiction over the facilitators, and if consumers have any problems with them, he knows of no place they could go to complain.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Terry Goddard declined to comment on the status of the investigation of the Canadian facilitators, but Goddard’s attitude might be revealed by the fact that he signed a letter with 17 other state attorneys general urging U.S. Secretary of Health and Human S ervices Tommy Thompson to allow states to import medicines.
Thompson, who announced his resignation Friday, has not authorized it, and bills that would allow the practice are still pending in Congress even though public opinion polls show overwhelming support.
Andrea Esquer, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said consumers for the time being should look for discounts through their local pharmacies or physicians until the legal issues surrounding imports are resolved.
Facilitators say consumers have little to worry about legally. Although technically against the law, federal or state authorities won’t try to seriously enforce the ban on imported drugs because it’s too much of a political hot potato, they say.
"(Law enforcement authorities) don’t want to make a criminal of an old lady who is importing her medicines because she can’t afford the U.S. price," Allen said
Joel Korsunsky of Prescription Drugs Canada, a Scottsdale-based facilitator, said he requested a meeting with Goddard to discuss the issue after the attorney general signed the letter. Goddard expressed interest, but so far they haven’t crossed paths.
The FDA for its part says it is enforcing the ban. In its latest action, the agency said on Wednesday it had filed a civil complaint through the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York against Canada Care Drugs Inc., charging it with illegal importation of prescription drugs.
The facilitators say they take actions to protect consumers. Korsunsky, for example, said his firm won’t facilitate the import of controlled substances, narcotics or habit forming drugs but focuses on maintenance medications for such conditions as high blood pressure. Also he only deals with pharmacies certified by Canadian authorities, working through a Canadian division owned by Prescription Drugs Canada. And if the medicines aren’t delivered, he said the customer doesn’t pay.
More information about the facilitators is available online at
Also a consumer advice brochure is available at the attorney general’s Web site,
The FDA’s take on the issue is available at www.fda.gov.