Survey Says Two Million US Adults Import Drugs without Prescriptions

July 5, 2007
Michelle Hoffman
ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

More than five million US adults import prescription drugs from other countries, according to a survey conducted by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Washington, DC (June 25)-More than five million US adults import prescription drugs from other countries, according to a survey conducted by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Concerned over the number of counterfeit drugs entering the US, PhRMA launched the survey to determine who was importing prescription drugs and why.

The survey shows that importers tend to be under 35, a bit younger than nonimporters, and they are more likely to be Hispanic and come from southern border states than are non-importers. Contrary to popular wisdom, adults purchasing drugs from other countries do carry health insurance. Approximately 85% of the importers have policies with prescription drug insurance. However, importers typically spend more money out of pocket on prescription drugs during a 12-month period than do their non-importing counterparts. Seventy-one percent of importers with medical coverage said their prescription-drug beneift was insufficient to cover their needs. In spite of these statistics, and quite unexpectedly, the survey also demonstrated that one in five importers has an annual income of $100,000 or more.

The top reason for drug importation was, not surprisingly, price, a motivator for more than 85% of the importers. More surprising, about half the importers lacked prescriptions for the drugs they wanted. The prescription drugs most often imported include drugs for infections requiring antibiotics, pain, allergies, hypertension, digestive problems and high cholesterol. 

While Canada is the single leading country exporting drugs to the US, Canadian drugs account for less than half of all drugs coming from overseas. The majority of drugs came from other countries, or the importers were uncertain as to the country of origin of their imports.

In a statement published on the PhRMA website, the organization’s President and CEO, Billy Tauzin said, “This study further confirms what the Food and Drug Administration has been saying all along – millions of Americans are circumventing the system and going to other sources to buy their medicine because they do not have a doctor’s prescription for the medicine they want. Alarmingly, this behavior increases an individual’s risk to being exposed to dangerous counterfeit medicines.”