Feature Archive

Buying Drugs Across the Border

Discount pharmacies line the borders. But do these drugs meet U.S. standards? Read this before you cross the line.

By Neil Osterweil
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

Looking for drug bargains across the border? If so, you might do well to remember two timeless maxims: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," and "There's a sucker born every minute."

The U.S. has the highest prescription drug costs in the world, prompting many people to seek savings by buying their medicines from Canadian or Mexican pharmacies.

But if you're looking for a cheaper way to get that cholesterol-lowering statin drug your doctor prescribed, do yourself and your heart a favor: Consider that the "Zocor" you buy across the border may be a sham.

The town of Los Algodones in the Mexican state of Baja California, just across the border from Yuma, Ariz., is a sleepy little village with a booming medical and pharmaceutical business. The town has only 10 or so streets, but about 250 doctors and dentists practice there, according to the Mexican newspaper El Universal. These medical professionals funnel business to the 20 or so pharmacies in the town that are ready to take patients' money and dispense medication at fantastic savings.

But as the FDA warned in a bulletin issued July 30, 2004, buyer beware. The agency reported that individual Americans shopping in Mexican pharmacies bought drugs purported to be the statin Zocor and the muscle spasm-reliever Soma, both of which turned out to be bogus. "Tests indicate that the counterfeit Zocor did not contain any active ingredient and that the counterfeit [Soma] differed in potency when compared to the authentic product." The phony Soma had much less active medicine than the real McCoy, the FDA reported.