The 6 States That Want to Import Cheap Drugs From Canada, and the 1 Reason They Won’t Be Able To

If you pay for prescription medicine, you’ve probably noticed prices keep rising. Not only do the drugs cost way too much, but you’re so used to paying big buck that pharmacies rip you off whenever they can even if they’re not paying as much for the drugs. Patients in the United States pay more than ever for prescription drugs, but a few states want to do something about it. Six states want to save money by importing cheap drugs from Canada, but it’ll never happen.

We’ll visit the states that want to import cheap drugs, including two with opioid addiction problems (pages 5 and 8) and tell you why it won’t happen anytime soon (page 9). But first, let’s find out why these states want to import cheap drugs in the first place.

Prescription drug spending is out of control

A pharmaceutical technician prepares to separate a prescription of the generic drug Lorcet at the Post Haste Pharmacy

Americans spend more than $1,100 a year on prescription drugs.  | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • The U.S. spends $1,162 per capita on prescriptions.

As we alluded to a minute ago, prescription drug spending in the United States is out of control. According to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data, the U.S. shelled out $1,162 per capita for prescription drugs in 2015. Second-place Switzerland spent $1,056, and No. 3 Canada came in at $807. So in a nutshell, the U.S. spends way too much on its prescriptions.

Next: At least we’re consistent.

The United States is No. 1 in healthcare spending

a doctor carrying a stethoscope and electronic medical records wearing a labcoat

Healthcare is crazy expensive in the U.S. | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

  • The U.S. is the only country spending five figures on healthcare.

Hey, at least the U.S. is consistent. We spend the most on prescription drugs, and we spend the most on healthcare. In 2016, we spent $10,348 per person, according to Health System Tracker. The average among other developed countries was half that, $5,169.

Next: The places that want to import cheap drugs from Canada.

1. Colorado

Dillon Silverthorne Colorado

Colorado had 500,000 residents avoid filling prescriptions for price reasons. | welcomia/iStock/Getty Images

  • The state is leading the way yet again

Colorado was the first state to sell legal marijuana, and residents enjoy some of the loosest laws. It’s leading the way yet again. A bill proposed in January of 2018 seeks to establish a program to import cheap drugs from Canada. Why? Roughly 500,000 Coloradans didn’t fill prescriptions in 2015 because the drugs were too expensive.

Next: No rush

2. Missouri

St. Louis

Missouri is exploring the idea of importing prescription drugs. | Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

  • Aiming to have more information by the end of 2019.

Missouri is taking a slow approach to bringing in cheap drugs from Canada. Its bill was pre-filed in early December of 2017 and officially introduced in January of 2018. The state’s Department of Health and Senior Services is tasked with exploring the topic, but there’s no rush. The deadline for the department to report back is Dec. 31, 2019.

Next: A state with an addicted city seeks a change.

3. Oklahoma

Oklahoma city

Oklahoma is dealing with a serious opioid crisis. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

  • The home of one of the most addicted cities in the U.S. wants a change.

Enid is one of the country’s most addicted cities in the opioid epidemic. Importing cheap drugs from Canada, thereby controlling the amount and distribution, is one way Oklahoma can fight the crisis. Plus, high drug costs have long been a burden. It has the potential to be a win-win for the Sooner State.

Next: A safety concern you wouldn’t think about.

4. Utah

Provo, Utah

Utah is worried about people who can’t take their medications. | iStock/Getty Images

  • The bill’s sponsor worries most about one thing.

Republican state representative Norm Thurston introduced his bill in the house on Feb. 14, 2018. The quality of Canadian drugs isn’t a concern for Thurston. High drug prices that discourage people from buying needed medicine is.

“The No. 1 threat to patient safety related to prescription drugs in our state is that the drugs are so expensive that people don’t take them,” Thurston tells the Salt Lake Tribune.

Next: A state combating soaring prescription drug costs.

5. Vermont

Montpelier, Vermont Skyline

Vermont is spending a lot of money exploring the idea of importing cheap drugs from Canada. | SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

  • Paying $250,000 for the research into buying cheap drugs.

Vermont didn’t waste any time looking into importing cheap drugs from north of the border. On the first day of its 2018 legislative session, senators introduced a bill with the ultimate goal of buying cheap drugs from Canada. The state plans on spending between $150,000 to $250,000 exploring the idea, which is a small price to pay considering prescription drug spending in Vermont increased 35% between 2010 and 2015.

Next: Bringing drugs from Canada can help this state battle drug abuse.

6. West Virginia

Sunset at the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia

West Virginia has rampant prescription drug abuse. | BackyardProduction/iStock/Getty Images

  • Only to save money, only for West Virginians

On page 2 of its bill, West Virginia explains three key elements of its proposed plan to import cheap drugs from Canada that are non-negotiable:

  • There needs to be a way to test the purity and potency.
  • The savings need to be substantial.
  • The drugs can’t leave the state.

West Virginia has some of the highest prescription drug abuse in the country. Controlling the supply is one way to battle the abuse.

Next: It’s too good to be true.

It’ll never happen

Prescription bottles at Publix

The idea of importing cheap drugs from Canada may be too good to be true. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • A 2003 law is at the core of the proposed changes, but there are too many hurdles.

India makes the most generic prescription drugs and sells $16.4 billion worth around the world. But the short route from Canada to the U.S. is ideal, which is why all of the six states we visited want to buy from Canada. Plus, as Governing notes, Canadian drugs are made in the same facilities as a lot of U.S. medications, so quality isn’t an issue.

If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The impetus for these proposals is a 2003 federal law that allows Medicare programs to import drugs to save money, yet there hasn’t been any action. Former Food and Drug Administration commissioners are against it. Plus, we’re guessing the major drug makers aren’t going to easily give up their share of what could be $610 billion in prescription drug spending in 2021.

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