Border Tightens Around Prescription Imports to Canada

By Lura Jackson


Canadians accustomed to purchasing their prescriptions from Wal-Mart were surprised recently when they were contacted by the superstore and advised they would no longer be able to bring their prescriptions back across to the Canadian side. The development is a result of efforts to enforce already-standing limitations on what can be imported across the US-Canadian border.

According to Amanda Morrison, program officer for the Regulatory Operations and Regions Branch in Canada, Canadians are forbidden from being products that contain prescription ingredients across the border unless they receive an exemption from Health Canada. While this is not a new restriction, some Canadians had previously operated under a loose assumption that exemptions would be granted. A representative from the CBSA said that as of a week ago the border offices had been contacted via e-mail by Health Canada and reminded that exemptions would need to be specifically granted. As a result, prescription drugs are now being seized at the border from individuals who have not received approval from Health Canada.

While most Canadians do not rely on American pharmacies for their prescriptions, Wal-Mart has confirmed that “quite a few” would come over to do so. An unnamed pharmacy representative said that the people most affected by this would be those who are unable to afford prescriptions that are more expensive on the Canadian side. Also affected will be the residents of Campobello, who are joined to the US mainland.

On the American side, some Calais residents are concerned that this recent tightening of the border is a signal that it may soon be more difficult for Americans to bring prescriptions across the border from Canada. While the practice is technically illegal, surveys report that 8 percent of Americans buy their drugs from across the border to save significant amounts of money. There have been vocal lobbyists on both sides of the issue making their cases on the national scene. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont proposed a bill at the end of February to allow widescale, legal importation of approved prescription drugs from Canada not just for individuals but for pharmacies and wholesalers. No motion has been decided yet on the bill.