Prescription drugs prices increase dramatically; are Canadian pharmacies the answer?

Posted at 10:50 PM, Nov 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-11 00:21:49-05

"My mom is 85 and she's on about 27 prescriptions on a daily basis," said Chris Drews, a newspaper editor in Zephyrhills.

The pills come at a hefty price for him and his mother. Just one of them, Celebrex, costs $380 a month.

"As someone who gets up and goes to work every day, I couldn’t pick up the tab," Drews said. "It would be more than my mortgage payment.”

Prices for prescription drugs in the U.S. are skyrocketing. According to an AARP report since 2011, prices for four of the nation's top 10 drugs went up 100 percent.

"(The pharmaceutical companies) overcharge because you need the medication," Drews said.

Prices only keep on going up. Over the last three years, prescription drug prices have outpaced inflation dramatically.

“Sooner or later you’ll run out of money or you’ll run out of drugs," Drews said. "It’s greedy. It’s a greed thing.”

Many Americans are facing exactly that. Dr Brant Delhammer at Wellington Regional Center sees the heartbreaking reality of expensive prescription medication on a regular basis.

“I would say that most days I encounter someone in the Emergency Room who has rationed their medications in some form," Delhammer said.

As a result, he has patients in the E.R. everyday who suffer from consequences of not taking their medication because they simply can't afford it.

“It’s a huge concern," Delhammer said.

How can you save money? Experts say you should shop around and look online for coupons. On you can do exactly that. In the case of Chris Drews and his mother, NewsChannel 5 picked three of her most expensive medications. With coupons she was able to save $171 a month, but that still means she would have to spend $923 for her Celebrex, Advair and Benicar.

"It would be more than we could afford to do," Drews said.

Bill Hepscher, owner of the Canadian Med Store in Zephyrhills, sees the problem of expensive prescription drugs every day.

“It’s the proverbial gun to the head," Hepscher said. "This medication can keep you alive or can keep your child alive or your mom and dad alive but by the way, it’s going to cost you a thousand dollars a month.”

That's why he founded the Canadian Med Store 15 years ago.

“The exact same drug costs a third of the price in other countries," Hepscher said. "That I think needs to be the question: Why do we, here in the US, pay so much more than the rest of the world?”

The Canadian Med Store orders drugs from Canada and other countries for a fraction of the cost. But you won't find any drugs on site.

"We're not a pharmacy," Hepscher said.

Stores are not allowed to sell drugs that aren't FDA approved. So how does the Canadian Med Store do it? They get your prescription and fill it at an overseas pharmacy. Legally you're allowed to order 3-month worth of medication from abroad for personal use. The store simply helps you order the medicine for you.

"We're a facilitator," Hepscher said.

As Drews handed off his prescription at the Canadian Med Store, he couldn't believe his ears.

"Today you're saving $700," said Corey Allen, manager at the store.

It's almost too good to be true for Drews.

“Yeah, doesn’t make much sense does it? How can they do it? But the pills work just fine,” Drews said.

In a letter to WPTV, the FDA is warning consumers not to buy drugs from other countries saying it's a "potentially dangerous practice" because the drugs have not been approved by the FDA. But Hepscher said that's pure fear mongering. He only buys from licensed pharmacies and the drugs have been approved by the FDA  in that country.

He said the drugs are made by the same companies as the U.S. version, often in the same plant.

“It’s the same manufacturer," Hepscher said. "So I’m always wondering does that mean the product in Canada is inferior to the product here in the United States? I’m sure if you asked the manufacturer they would say: “No of course not! Our product has the same quality standards no matter who we sell it to.”

Many doctors and insurance agents agree, referring their patients to get cheaper medicine from abroad.

“If it’s a matter of going to a Canadian pharmacy and getting the same medication maybe spelled a little differently or not taking your medicine and it’s a matter of, in some cases literally life and death, it’s an easy decision to make," Delhammer said.

You can order medication from the Canadian Med Store by visiting one of their six locations in the Tampa region or by simply calling them.
Hepscher said to be careful to when you go online not to fall for some of the fake Canadian pharmacies that sell counterfeit medication. He advises people to check if those stores use licensed pharmacies in other countries. 

In Canada the country's health care provider can negotiate prices with the drug companies. In the U.S. the biggest providers, Medicare and Medicaid, cannot meaning it's costing patients, hospitals and the tax payer more.

"It’s greedy," Drews said. "It’s a greed thing.”

Legislators have caught on to the problem.

Just last month, 34 congressmen sent a letter to President Obama, asking for more oversight over big pharma and to lax rules on overseas drug importation policies.

Until legislation changes and the cost of drugs drops down, families like Chris Drews and his mother are caught in the middle and have to rely on medication from across the border.

“It’s like game’s being played and they’re playing with people’s quality of life," Drews said.