Aaron S. Kesselheim, MD, JD; Niteesh K. Choudhry, MD, PhD
Acknowledgment: The authors thank Kevin Outterson, Michael Reich, Rahul Rajkumar, and Frank May for their comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.
Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.
Requests for Single Reprints: Aaron S. Kesselheim, MD, JD, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, 1620 Tremont Street, Suite 3030, Boston, MA 02120; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current Author Addresses: Drs. Kesselheim and Choudhry: 1620 Tremont Street, Suite 3030, Boston, MA 02120.
In response to increasing prescription drug costs, more U.S. patients and policymakers are importing less-expensive pharmaceutical products from other countries. Large-scale prescription drug importation is currently illegal, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits individuals to bring in 90-day supplies of drugs for personal use. As patient use of foreign-bought drugs has increased, federal legislators have continued to debate the full legalization of importation. Three factors help guide whether U.S. patients and policymakers can rely on other countries as sources of imported prescription drugs: whether the safety of the product can be ensured, how the import price compares with domestic prices, and how importation might affect the exporting country's pharmaceutical market. In wealthier countries with active regulatory systems, drug safety can be adequately ensured, and brand-name products are usually less expensive than in the United States (although generic drugs may be more expensive). However, implementing large-scale importation can negatively impact the originating country's market and can diminish the long-term cost savings for U.S. consumers. In low- and middle-income countries, prices may be reduced for both brand-name and generic drugs, but the prevalence of unauthorized products on the market makes ensuring drug safety more difficult. It may be reasonable for individual U.S. consumers to purchase essential medicines from certain international markets, but the most effective way to decrease drug costs overall is the appropriate use of domestic generic drugs, which are available for almost every major therapeutic class.
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Kesselheim AS, Choudhry NK. The International Pharmaceutical Market as a Source of Low-Cost Prescription Drugs for U.S. Patients. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:614-619. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-148-8-200804150-00006
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2008;148(8):614-619.
Cardiology, Coronary Risk Factors, Dyslipidemia, Healthcare Delivery and Policy.
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