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July 2, 2019 by Dr. Kyle Varner in Prescriptions without Insurance , Solutions

Picture this. You’ve suffered for years with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The constant, debilitating heartburn, is a struggle to deal with and your quality of life has dropped dramatically. 

So you decide to bite the bullet and tackle the GERD with Nexium, a prescription drug that clears up reflux and ulcers. $131 for 14 capsules? You probably think your situation just got worse. 

But just across the border in Mexico, you can buy them for $14.28. That’s a 90 percent decrease in price right there. So why aren’t you doing this?

The thing is, people are suspicious about getting prescription drugs from another country. After all, we’re more comfortable with what we’re familiar with, and we don’t know much about how safe less-developed or less-regulated countries are.

But foreign drugs aren’t bad at all —if you’re smart about it. 

The drugs at home are no better

Local accountability isn’t as great as you might think. While the FDA can spew out a lot of propaganda on how foreign drugs aren’t safe, the FDA can’t keep us safe either with our own drugs. 

A good friend of mine lost his mother to cancer after the pharmacist diluted her chemotherapy drugs in order to increase his profits. This happened within the United States, and it should tell us that despite everything regulators say, they can’t keep us safe.

In fact, I’d say it’s a far better decision to buy your prescription drugs abroad; the savings you can make are quite remarkable. 

Drugs are generally similar between countries; the trick is to take responsibility for your own quality control, and make sure you buy from the right places. So here are a few tips that can get you started:

Choose the right country to buy prescription drugs

There are some countries you should never buy prescription drugs from. I am going to rule out China and 98 percent of Africa, especially West Africa. Never ever buy prescription drugs from these places. Okay, maybe you could buy from Egypt or South Africa, but that’s only if you’re desperate. There’s a notorious drug counterfeiting industry there and the risk isn’t worth it.

Now that that’s out of the way there are a few places that are reputable. Europe and Canada are good choices but the vast majority would look there first already, given they’re quite like the US.

I’d also have no problem buying from Mexico, Turkey or India. They actually have strong medical communities in those countries, which is why lots of people go there for medical tourism. (Fun fact: They also have some highly specialized experts in certain fields, such as heart surgery in India.)

Look into their pharmacies

Buying most things nowadays simply means going online to browse and pick what you want. The amount of choice is immeasurable. It’s great that the medical industry has caught onto this so you can research pharmacies in advance. 

A website I like to use is pharmacychecker.com. You just type in the drug you want and it comes up with a list of pharmacies and their prices.

You should then do what I bet you usually do when you buy anything online –look at a lot of reviews. In particular, pay close attention to the negative reviews and the ratio of good to bad. Good reviews are much more likely to be false or paid for while the negative ones tend to be authentic. (Fun fact: companies don’t usually pay lots of reviewers to tarnish the reputation of their competitors.) I’d then weigh the reviews up against the price of the drug.

Now, usually I’m not a fan of licensing, but when there are so many different countries, there are lots of variables that could influence how your drugs end up. So for this situation it’s a good benchmark—definitely buy from a pharmacy that’s licensed. I’d also extend this to pharmacies that require a prescription because that means they operate in a formal fashion. Anything else means they could be black market drugs.

Black market drugs can be very dangerous and are famous for being dodgy. This is because it’s a global market over the internet so you’re very removed from your seller. They have no reason to provide a great service—they get their money and disappear into the night. Instead, you want to go with a pharmacy that plays by the rules so you won’t get scammed, or even worse, injured from a bad batch.

You may actually get drugs from the more remote countries through the closer to home ones. For example, if you buy from a Canadian pharmacy, they may actually get their drugs from another country. Yet, they’re responsible to process them and are accountable to the well-developed Canadian legal system, so that means they have an interest to sell you a good product.

Inspect your new prescription drugs

So you’ve sent your prescription to the pharmacy and they’ve sent you your batch of drugs, great! Here’s what you need to do now: Thoroughly examine the packaging. You can use your old friend Google for this—it should look like the Google images of the drug and its packaging.

But remember, as I said, lots of versions of the same drug are made by different companies so they can look different from the US versions. For example, my mother gets drugs made by Bayer, a very well-established producer, and they’re from their factory in Turkey. Bayer publishes what all their drugs and packaging look like on their website, so if you were to do the same they’d look like those, not like the different brand from the US.

A few telltale signs of counterfeiting are things like spelling errors and typos or things that don’t read very well. You should also look at the Universal Product Code, or barcode, where people scan it. There are some numbers there and if you type those into Google it should come up with what it is—this is a great way to test its legitimacy.

Once you’re past that stage, you should check for tampering. Drugs usually come in a bottle or blister packs, and these should be sealed. To double check, look at the photos again, the seals should match them, the drugs should look the same and so should the markings on the drugs. If any of these don’t match up it’s important to make that public. Share it on social media, etc. Medical companies have a lot on the line when it comes to reputation and patient safety and you should be adequately compensated.

Conclusion

Foreign drugs can be a great alternative to US ones, but you really need to do your due diligence. Your health is your own responsibility and you can’t rely on big bureaucratic institutions like the FDA to keep you safe. Stay smart and aware and you should be okay; after all, the market responds to consumer behavior, so make the market work for you instead of the other way around.

This information is intended to help readers be more informed about their health options when speaking with a professional, but it should not be used alone to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. Be sure to speak to a qualified doctor before taking any action to make sure that your choices reflect your actual health situation.

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