Surprising Number of U.S. Citizens Surveyed (by PhRMA) Import Drugs Without Prescription

PhRMA surveyed 14,576 people within the U.S. between January 11 and 23 on whether or not they have bought prescription drugs from outside of the U.S.  A disturbing number did, and without a prescription. So why did PhRMA wait six months to release the results? Drug importation is nothing new. The Washington Post reported on cross-border bus trips four years ago (Click here to access video), and everyone from FDA to security think tanks (notably, Rudy Giuliani's) and the press have talked about the dangers of buying drugs online.  But this survey shows that cross-border pharmaceutical buying is hardly limited to senior citizens (many of whom may be buying drugs legitimately, with doctors' prescriptions, across the border).  It found that younger, Web-savvy people were buying imported drugs.  It also found that therapies for chronic conditions (rather than "life style drugs") were the biggest targets, and supports the view that unregulated sales of potentially fake drugs via the Internet, and without a prescription, is becoming a much bigger problem. It's clearly too vast for FDA and law enforcement to be able to control. More on the study: Most people are importing drugs to save money, but one in five importers had a higher average household income than their nonimporting peers. One in five Americans importing drugs earn more than $100,000 annually; importers are more likely to be under the age of 35; and 85 percent of Americans importing drugs have insurance with prescription drug coverage. Other sound bites:
  • Around 5.4 million adults - or 2.5 percent of the American adult population - have recently purchased prescription drugs from another country, such as Canada or Mexico.
  • The demographic profile of importers is similar to that of non-importers. A few important differences: importers are more likely to be under the age of 35 than non-importers; importers are more likely to be Hispanic and live in a southern border state.
  • On average, importers typically spend more out-of-pocket money on prescription drugs over a 12 month period than non-importers - even though both importers and non-importers take about the same number of prescription drugs and 85 percent of importers have insurance with prescription drug coverage.
  • Canada is the single, leading country where importers obtain prescription drugs outside the United States. Fewer than half of all importers, however, purchased their drugs in Canada; the majority of importers bought their drugs from another country, such as Mexico or somewhere else, or were unsure where their purchase originated.
  • The prescription drugs most likely to be imported from other countries include medicine for: Infections that require antibiotics, pain relief, allergies, hypertension, digestive disorders and high cholesterol.

PhRMA says that households were selected in accordance with a probability sample design that gives all telephone numbers (both listed and unlisted) an equal chance of selection. One adult, 18 years or over, from each household, selected by a systematic procedure to provide a balance of demographic characteristics, was screened for qualification in the survey. The survey was done with The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the Center for Pharmacoeconomic Studies at the University of Texas College of Pharmacy and the Men's Health Network.

The study disputes popular belief that Americans mainly purchase life-style drugs from foreign countries, when in fact, the majority of drugs purchased are to treat chronic ailments," added Marv Shephard, Ph.D., Director, Center for Pharmacoeconomic Studies at the University of Texas College of Pharmacy. "What is troublesome is that many drugs are purchased without a prescription, which may mean patients are not under the care of a licensed health care provider." For more information on the survey (the entire survey or a detailed executive summary is not available online yet), click here.