David Janeson owns Jandrugs, a leading Canadian online pharmacy that is part of the eDrugSearch.com database. I interviewed David recently about his business and some of the common misperceptions about Canadian pharmacies.
Cary: David, what percentage of your orders come from U.S. citizens?
David: Virtually all of our business at Jandrugs is from Americans. As Americans typically face the highest drug prices in the world, it is where our services are most required. We’ve been offering prescriptions filled to Americans since 2002.
Cary: One of the biggest misconceptions about ordering medications from Canadian pharmacies is that there is a quality difference between Canadian and U.S. drugs. To what extent is this perception a problem?
David: As evidenced by the Dorgan-Snowe bill, there is an increasing recognition that drug prices are lower in many countries that have drug regulatory systems comparable to the U.S. In fact, there’s never been a situation of an American patient being harmed by ordering from a pharmacy in Canada.
The drug industry is the largest lobby group in Washington — ahead of the oil companies and the tobacco companies — and the incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to maintain a system where Americans pay more than the rest of the world are huge. For the most part, the industry has been successful in maintaining their walled garden in the U.S. The FDA has maintained that it would be impossible to guarantee the safety of medicines originating from outside the U.S., despite the fact that Europe has had such a system in place for more than 20 years.
Cary: Can you describe the Jandrugs process?
David: Any product ordered from Jandrugs is the same as what is dispensed into the local market. Manitoba, Canada is the only jurisdiction in North America where pharmacies can be specifically licensed for IPS (International Prescription Service) and we are a highly regulated industry. We also have partner pharmacies in the UK, New Zealand, Fiji and Washington State, for instances where the lowest price source for the medicines is outside of Canada and these pharmacies are similarly regulated by their government authorities.
Additionally, we have a testing program on both a random and post-complaint basis with a company called Renhite Labs in Illinois. Although we have never had an instance where a product returned anything but the highest possible test result, if one did we would be able to trace the product back to its origin right when it came off the line at the pharmaceutical company’s manufacturing facility.
All prescription medicines have a “lot” number that identifies the manufacturing date of the medicine. Unlike most pharmacies, at Jandrugs we track the lots of all our dispensed medicines and in the event of a recall we are able to contact the affected patients. (In most other pharmacies, an advisory is simply put out where patients are advised to check their medicine.)
Cary: One thing that stops some Americans from not purchasing their prescription drugs from a Canadian pharmacy is the fear of not receiving the order due to seizure by the U.S. government. Jandrugs guarantees ordered medication will arrive within 21 days of shipping or you will either refund the price of the order or re-ship the medication depending on which the customer prefers. How often if ever do you have to refund or re-ship packages due to confiscation by U.S. customs?
David: Of late, virtually never, with the exception of Hawaii. From November 2005 to September 2006, it was a problem with at one point 3 percent of our packages being returned to us rather than delivered to our customers. Our response was to reship the packages, and to help our customers get their prescription filled locally until the reshipment arrived, and we reimbursed our customers for the difference in the cost. In the fall of 2006, the seizures stopped as an amendment was made to a Department of Homeland Security spending bill preventing the department from using taxpayer funding for this purpose.
Cary: How is Big Pharma making it harder for U.S. consumers to purchase their prescription medication from Canada?
David: Besides the smear campaign and U.S. government lobbying, some of the brand name drug companies do not allow us to purchase their products directly in Canada. In response to this “blacklist,” Jandrugs orders affected products from a pharmacy in Canada that primarily serves Canadians. This increases our cost and has the result that the affected products are more expensive for Americans ordering from Canada than they are for Canadians.
Cary: Several U.S. states and municipalities now advocate importing Canadian drugs. Several states have even started Web sites for their citizens to order from approved Canadian pharmacies. Do you think this will have any impact on the current law that prevents importation of prescription medication from Canada?
David: It helps in establishing the credibility of our pharmacy, but doesn’t have a practical effect in that it’s the federal government’s jurisdiction. That could change if there is a change in the White House, but the current president has been quite clear that he’s not going to allow such a change. That being said, the current situation is that ordering prescription drugs from Jandrugs by Americans is allowed and permitted, although not legal.
The conditions are that the patient provides a prescription, the medicine is not a controlled substance, and the order is for a personal supply generally defined as three months or 100 days. All Jandrugs orders meet these conditions. Businesses, pharmacies, and drug wholesalers in the U.S. are not allowed to order from us, but individuals are.
Cary: Anything else you’d like to add?
David: Here are some links you may wish to take a look at:
This is the current bill regarding legalizing ordering drugs from Canada. There’s pretty much always one of these active. They occasionally pass through Congress, put don’t get the president’s signature and none have become law yet.
Here’s a story from Sen. Bill Nelson’s office on the Department of Homeland Security’s funding bill.
This is an interesting article about the drug industry lobby in Washington and how much money these companies make in the U.S. marketplace. Of interest, our industry has one part-time lobbyist versus Big Pharma’s 1,291. I’d have to say he is doing a very good job of holding his own.
Finally, here are links to two notices on product recalls on a product called Advair. The first is for Advair originating in Canada that implies that we are not legitimate. The second is for a recall a year later for product distributed in the U.S. Note the change in tone.11