This answer about personal drug importation is focused on U.S. consumers.
If you’re in the U.S., it’s legal to order a medication online that is mailed directly from a U.S. state-licensed pharmacy. It’s not legal, under most circumstances, to order and import medicine from a pharmacy in another country, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, millions of Americans order and import lower-cost medicines to fill prescriptions from pharmacies located in Canada and other countries because they are never prosecuted for doing so. They also almost always receive their prescription orders.
Importing Medication from Other Countries: “Personal Drug Importation”
The first step of ordering and purchasing medication from a foreign pharmacy is perfectly legal. It’s the importation by you (often called “personal importation”) that is technically illegal.
Of course, laws affecting importation of medication for personal use vary across the world. For instance, personal drug importation is legal in Australia.
FDA personnel have continuously stated that no one is prosecuted for personal importation of medicine, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal. The FDA has published their personal importation policy explaining that they may allow personal imports of drugs that the FDA has not approved under certain circumstances.
The FDA may allow personal drug importation if:
- The drug is for a serious condition and there is no effective treatment available in the United States
- There is no commercialization or promotion of the drug to U.S. residents
- The drug is not considered an unreasonable risk
- The individual importing the drug verifies in writing that it is for his or her own use, and provides contact information for the doctor providing treatment or shows the product is for the continuation of treatment begun in a foreign country
- Generally, not more than a 3-month supply of the drug is imported
The FDA states that it cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness of medicines that you purchase over the Internet from foreign sources. That’s because it is beyond their regulatory scope of practice. In other words, they don’t verify pharmacies in Canada or other countries.
Medication at Your Local Pharmacy is Legally Imported
It is very likely that medications you buy from your local U.S. pharmacy, such as Walgreens or CVS, are imported from abroad. That’s because the majority of pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. are made outside the U.S.
Written by Gabriel Levitt, MA | Photo by cottonbro pexels