Gifts from the North 

Part one

Having trouble catching a decent breath? Asthma, maybe? COPD? And the doctor says you need Spiriva? Maybe Advair? Singulair?

But that goop doesn't come cheap, does it? I can imagine what you were thinking when you came out of CostWalRiteGreenMartCo's Pharmacy after picking up your first prescription. And it didn't help knowing that the amount you just paid would be a monthly expense for the rest of your life or until the product goes generic, which ever comes first.

You don't know which is worse, do you? ... the fact that you are now at the mercy of the pharmaceutical pirates,or that you have no insurance to pad the blow. No pharmacy policy, no co-pay, and you aren't old enough for Medicare. You're on your own, pal. Out of pocket. Dipping into what's left of that IRA you carried out of the last job you had or worse. Gad, I hope it's not to the point that you're eating cat food in a creme of Ensure sauce just so you can afford your inhaler.

So if you're that person I've been describing, or someone with any number of other health problems, I have an Xmas present for you. A big one. Certainly, the most substantial gift I've ever handed out in this column. You don't necessarily have to be uninsured to get it, but the uninsured--which is more than 50 million Americans at this point--are those I have most in mind. Now let's open a few of the presents. I think you'll see right away how they might help.

• The same Spiriva that runs $273 for a 30-day supply at a Costco pharmacy (might be marginally more or less from other U.S. sources) can be had for $129 from Canada. For a 90-day supply from that side of the border, it's $219. From this side, it's $798.

• One Canadian Advair disk (it's an inhaler) is $89 (three for $179), while a U.S. Advair disk is $195 (three for $577).

• From Canada, 84 Singulair tablets can be had for $157, while 90 tablets sell for $479 here.

• Symbicort (another asthma/COPD remedy) is $47 for a 60-dose inhaler up there. The same thing here is $196.

• Dulera (asthma, again) is $139 in Canada for what $219 gets you in the United States.

• Ventolin (asthma/COPD): Two 200-dose inhalers are $47 in Canada, but in the United States it's one for $47.

But before we go any further, there's this little issue I should tell you about. It has ultimately to do with people in America--pharmaceutical board-of-director types and their political toadies, in particular--who would rather you pay full price for the drugs you need. It'll be quicker if I just quote something I took off a "U.S. government officials have stated that individuals who order non-controlled prescription drugs from Canada or other foreign sources (up to a three-month supply) for their own use are not being pursued or prosecuted. However, it is technically not legal for individuals to import most prescription drugs."

There. Now you can take that statement under consideration to whatever extent you feel it deserves.

Lest you think this is all about breathing dysfunctions, it's not. I started with asthma/COPD medication simply because that is what got me started. An uninsured friend admitted he'd been buying the stuff his doctor prescribed for his COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) from Canada because he didn't want to see his retirement savings disappear down the Big Pharma sump.

The shocking difference in costs on that one medication he is taking put me to wondering how much disparity there might be between other drugs.

I researched the brand names we see advertised every day on TV, going to several Internet sources, but ended up using only a few because of the convenient way they listed the prices. For the U.S. sources, I used the pharmacy section and online pharmacy In Canada, I chose and In both countries, the figures I chose for this article were consistent with other prices within that country. Also, I compare the same dosages from Canada to the United States--i.e., a 10 mg dose in Canada is likened to a 10 mg dose here. A few of the drugs I include have gone generic, but that generic price is not considered here. I have used only brand names, and if you have been prescribed those medications, you will likely know if it has a generic replacement. But enough explaining. More drugs!

• A 90-day supply Crestor (a statin for lowering cholesterol) is $143 in Canada. The same thing is $427 in the United States.

• Lipitor (another cholesterol fighter) is $139 for 90 tablets in Canada and $385 for 100 in the United States.

• Plavix (reduces the risk of strokes and heart attacks) is $89 for 28 pills in Canada (84 for $235) and $195 for 30 pills in the United States (90 for $565).

• Pradaxa (to prevent strokes and blood clots) is $174 for 60 pills in Canada, but 60 pills is $284 in the United States.

I asked my source what he described as common questions he gets from everyone upon hearing he's buying drugs through the mail from Canada: "Ew, you're getting drugs from Canada? Aren't you afraid they're tainted somehow? How can you be sure of the quality of what you're getting? And don't you need a doctor's prescription?"

Next week, we'll find out his answers.

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