Among citizens of high-income countries, Americans are exceptional in their struggle to afford medication. Citizens of Japan, for example, do not have to skip medication because of its price, or at least such instances are exceedingly rare. Compare that to 50 million Americans going without a prescription each year due to cost. It’s an obvious reason why so many Americans, relative to non-Americans, are searching online for prescription medication from other countries. Fortunately, they can compare drug prices among safe online pharmacies and avoid rogue sites.
For chronic conditions – even medically expensive ones like cancer and AIDS – citizens of high income countries, except America, almost never need to access an international online pharmacy because the medication at their local pharmacy is affordable. An excellent documentary on PBS shows just how affordable medical and pharmaceutical care is in Japan. This is not to endorse another countries’ healthcare system but to clearly identify and remind our readers that high drug prices as a barrier to care is a unique American crisis among rich countries.
When consumers outside America go online to buy medication, it’s usually to purchase lifestyle drugs, such as medication for erectile dysfunction or hair loss. Due to the nature of these products, some consumers would prefer anonymity by skipping the doctor’s visit to get a prescription and instead purchase them from rogue online pharmacies without a prescription. Rogue online pharmacies are more likely to sell counterfeit and substandard products, and making all consumers aware of this protects their health. Since cost is a barrier to medication for so many Americans, making them aware of lower cost alternatives internationally is good for their health, too.
How big are the overall price differences between countries? A chart from 2005 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), showing international drug price disparities, is very revealing. It shows that the U.S. spends about twice as much per person than the average for OECD countries. Since international drug price disparities have grown considerably since 2005 on brand name drugs, the disparity between American drug prices and international has grown more severe.
Drug prices are lower internationally primarily because foreign governments control pharmaceutical prices through a variety of policy interventions. For most prescription medications, particularly for maintenance conditions, this mitigates the need to seek out lower prices online internationally. In America the need persists more so than ever.