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Low Cost Prescriptions - From Canada

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Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton, once quipped, “Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than that of competition.”

So it goes with Canada’s booming online pharmacy business. Fed up with high prescription prices, drug company profiteering and the government’s empty promises, thousands of elderly Americans are turning to Canada for help.

Help is coming in a big dose from Minnesoda, a pint sized farming town 140 miles west of Winnipeg. Minnesoda is home to a growing number of internet based Canadian pharmacies that sell prescription medicines almost exclusively to Americans -- at up to 80% less than they cost in the States.

One of the largest online drugstores is Mediplan, known as RxNorth.com. Mediplan has carved out a niche by exploiting Canada’s controls on prescription costs, taking advantage of the strong U.S. dollar, testing the legal limits of cross border commerce and chipping away at the profits of drug manufacturers.

The number of White haired uninsured Americans is bigger than the population of Canada and business at Canadian online pharmacies couldn’t be better. Last year Canadian Web pharmacies raked in more than $700 million in sales to Americans.

Online customers find order forms on a pharmacy’s Website. They must mail or fax in a doctor’s prescription, along with their medical history and a list of other drugs they take. A Canadian physician must approve the prescription. Among the best selling drugs are those for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and arthritis. Americans can save $70 to $200 per 100-tablet prescription. The pharmacies stock about 1,000 medications.

Here’s an example of the savings: 100 tablets of the anti-depressant, Paxil, 20mg from RxNorth.com costs $147.84, shipping charges excluded, compared to $235.87 at DestinationRx.com, a cost comparison site for U.S. drugstores. The cholesterol drug Zocor, 20mg costs $189.73 at Canadameds.com compared to $362.00 at DestinationRx.com.

But success across the border has brought heat from the drug producers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This week the FDA will urge Canada to stop the practice, arguing that online prescription purchases are unsafe because customers can’t be sure they aren’t getting tainted, counterfeit or outdated drugs, although there have been no reports of that happening with a Canadian Web pharmacy.

Last month, London based GlaxoSmithKline, maker of Paxil and Avandia, halted shipments to Canada’s online pharmacies, citing safety concerns and FDA rules. Canadian pharmacists are preparing to fight back with a lawsuit accusing the drug manufacturer of anti-competitive practices.

Several large senior citizens groups have denounced the Glaxo move and are organizing a boycott of its non-prescription products, such as Tums and Contact. Meanwhile, American seniors remain undaunted, as one Texas senior put it, “We wouldn’t buy from Canada if we didn’t have to!”

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