What’s in Your Medication?

Drugs bought in other countries may not be what you want

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Some drugs are cheaper outside the U.S. Some are available without a prescription in other countries. But, how can you be sure that you are getting what you pay for?

Drugs made overseas are inspected by the FDA when they are imported. However, buying medications online or while visiting other countries takes the FDA out of the loop. 

The only way to be sure that medications have the proper ingredients is to buy them through U.S. pharmacies according to your doctor’s orders.

"Talk to your pharmacist before taking any medication."

A recent commentary by Canadian drug policy researcher and author of books about medical industry screening, Alan Cassels, MPA, raised questions about drugs made overseas.

He raised these questions:

• How do we know that we are getting only what is on the label – and nothing else?
• How do we know if the medications contain the proper amounts of active ingredients?

First and foremost, the best way to make sure the answer to both of those questions is YES is to buy medications through approved channels in the U.S.

This means not buying medications over the internet. It also means not going to Canada or Mexico to buy medication.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with making sure that drugs sold here in the U.S. are safe and contain only approved ingredients.

Drugs purchased in Canada, Mexico or online from other places are not subject to FDA scrutiny. Other countries have different, and sometimes less strict, policies about medications.

Buying medications in other countries may mean that you don’t know exactly what you are getting.

The FDA admits that many of the medications sold here in the U.S. are made, at least in part, in other countries.

However, the FDA has a complex system of inspecting both facilities that make drugs in other countries and the actual drugs as they enter the U.S.

Alan Cassels noted that Canadian policies for inspecting overseas manufacturing plants are flawed.

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office highlights some flaws in the FDA system of inspection.

The FDA faces challenges when inspecting some overseas drug manufacturing sites because of foreign government restrictions. 

However, they try to make up for their limitations by having a good system of inspecting medications as they come into the U.S.

By and large, drugs imported from foreign makers through FDA channels are usually safe and contain the drugs required by the FDA and nothing else.

The FDA website (www.fda.gov) also posts warnings about contaminated or counterfeit products that are being sold in Mexico or other countries.

The commentary by Alan Cassels was published September 10 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 7, 2012
Last Updated:
September 10, 2012