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How JAMA & Kaiser Family Foundation Studies Have Concluded Millions of U.S. Adults Import Medications

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 1.5% of adults in the U.S. who take prescription drugs purchase them from outside the U.S. to save money each year. That’s about 2.3 million people. In 2016, my review of a similar set of data estimated about four million per year. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2016 poll data was used to support an estimate showing that 19 million people, 8% of the adult population, have imported lower cost prescription drugs for personal use. What’s going on? 

The JAMA study authors used 2015-2017 government data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which collected an assortment of health information from 61,238 individuals. As explained in the JAMA study:

“Survey respondents were asked whether they bought prescription drugs from a country other than the US to save money during the past 12 months. We defined respondents as purchasers of medications outside the US if they answered yes to the question.”

Past estimates, including my own, have also used NHIS data but may have extrapolated incorrectly. The percentages should be applied not to the general adult population but to those who take prescription drugs. The adult population is about 256 million. In this study, the sample population of 61,238 represented 152.2 million people who take prescription drugs. The JAMA study found that 1.5% purchased medications outside the U.S. to save money, which comes out to about 2.3 million. My past estimates looked at 1.6%, which was an earlier NHIS estimate of adults who import, of 256 million people, which came out to a little over 4 million people.

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How are Americans importing more affordable medications?

online pharmacyIt’s widely known that Americans buy medications from Canada and other countries because the prices are much lower. What many people do not know is how people are doing this.

Even our foremost scholars on the issue of U.S. pharmaceutical prices don’t know. In an article published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ), readers are informed that:

“A modest proportion of U.S. citizens travel to Canada and Mexico to purchase lower priced prescription drugs.23

That footnote – 23 – links to a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation Health Survey, which includes the question:

“Have you or another family member living in your household ever bought prescription drugs from Canada or other countries outside the United States in order to pay a lower price, or not?”

Eight percent of respondents said that they had, which is about 20 million Americans, but the survey did not ask how they did it.

The data is far from perfect. I looked at several data sources when I wrote a report in 2015 called Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health.  In one analysis of an FDA survey in 2012, I estimated that about six million Americans were purchasing medication from outside the U.S. over the Internet. I believe that figure is somewhat inflated. (more…)

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Drug Importation is Popular Despite What Big Pharma Says

Voters want importation to be legal.

Voters want importation to be legal.

Shocking. Contrary to the outcry against high drug prices in the United States and the findings of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a recent survey conducted by the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP or “Buy Safe Rx”), the Pharma-funded nonprofit, found that a majority of consumers (59%) oppose legalizing drug importation “after being provided with information specifically pertaining to Canadian online pharmacies.” Information, huh? First, let’s talk about an objective survey on the issue.

In May of this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation issued a more comprehensive, larger survey that found the complete opposite result of ASOP: 72% of respondents support legalizing drug importation from Canada, with Democrats and Republicans agreeing on this issue.

Also, despite the federal prohibitions, nineteen million Americans say they have imported lower cost medication from other countries.

The ASOP “survey” respondents were provided fear-inducing “statistics” surrounding Canadian online pharmacies before asking the survey questions. One such “factoid” gives you a window into the scheming nature of the whole project: (more…)

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