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Is it Legal to Buy Prescription Drugs from Canada?

Citizens of the United States often find themselves tempted to purchase prescription medication from other countries. The high cost of the domestic drugs themselves is only one factor that causes those in need to look elsewhere. The cost of doctor visits, which are often required for every refill, can add up quickly. The hassle of insurance programs that will cover only specific items from specific pharmacies is sometimes enough to keep patients from filling much needed prescriptions completely. With all of these obstacles, why not buy prescription drugs from Canada? One good reason is that it is often illegal.

Illegal Prescriptions from Canada

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the entity that is in charge of determining whether or not prescription drugs are both safe and effective. Drugs purchased outside of the U.S., even if they appear to be the same as those that are bought in the States, can have a different composition. Furthermore, drugs bought outside of the U.S. are not guaranteed to have been produced in facilities that are kept to the high standard the FDA requires of its domestic drugs. Because of this, it is illegal for companies or individuals to purchase foreign drugs with the intent to resell. It is also illegal for many individuals to purchase Canadian drugs for personal use.

Enforcement Discretion

Federal officials exercise what they call “enforcement discretion” when deciding who can and cannot bring prescription drugs to the United States. Though it is technically illegal for individuals to purchase prescription drugs abroad except in certain circumstances, border patrol will generally allow non-narcotic prescriptions that are no larger than a three month supply. The same is often true of mail order pharmacies. As long as quantities stay low, custom officials usually do not enforce prescription drug laws.

Legal Prescriptions from Canada

The FDA does allow some individuals to purchase prescription drugs from Canada for personal use if specific guidelines are met. Those who suffer from serious diseases may be prescribed a prescription drug that is not yet approved in the U.S. This is most commonly seen in certain types of cancers. When this happens, it is obviously necessary to buy drugs from Canada or other countries.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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