01/28/05 — Professor says cheap drugs are dangerous

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Professor says cheap drugs are dangerous

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 28, 2005 2:02 PM

Buying cheap prescription drugs from other countries may end up being costly, says the dean of Campbell University's pharmacy school.

Dr. Ronald Maddox, who is also a professor at the school, has been traveling around the state trying to spread the word about options for buying medicine.

"At first glance, consumers may think that if they can obtain prescription drugs from Canada at lesser prices than the United States, then they should purchase them," he said during a stop in Goldsboro this week.

Among the consequences of allowing foreign drugs into this country, he said, is the potential to "adulterate our drug supply system.

"It's an opportunity for counterfeit drugs because they don't have the same guidelines that we do in the U.S. Even with the closed system we currently have there have been problems. Allowing importation and opening this system could only cause more problems."

He said the American Medical Association has expressed concern that if prescription drugs are allowed to be imported from foreign countries, counterfeit drugs will also be more likely to enter the drug distribution system.

"States that currently provide access to foreign imported drugs leave consumers without protection with respect to the quality and safety of their medications," he said.

The main reason consumers look into buying prescription drugs from other sources, he said, is money.

"People focus on the argument that medications are expensive," he said. "My point is there are other options. You need to be an informed citizen.

"Importation is far from the only way to save money on prescription drugs, and among the least safe of those alternatives."

He suggested patients talk with their doctors about free samples or ask about generic alternatives, which on average are cheaper in the United States than in Canada. Comparing prices at local pharmacies is another option that can save money, he said.

He said patients should discuss drug costs and equivalent drugs with their physician. There are many ways to save money on prescription medications and most have been underused, he said.

"It is my experience that most drugs have equivalent agents that will provide the same" advantages, he said. "These similar agents have been on the market for a longer period of time and are less expensive than newer drugs ... Newer drugs are not always better."

He said the Medicare prescription drug discount card is another cost-saving measure, providing savings of 10 to 25 percent on retail prices.

"The full prescription drug benefit, which becomes available in 2006, will offer Medicare beneficiaries an average of 50 percent savings with the lowest income seniors paying no more than $5 per prescription," he said, offering the Web site address www.medicare.gov or the phone number 1-800-Medicare.

Private companies also offer assistance, he said, especially to lower income patients. One Web site to check is www.helpingpatients.org

Maddox said he was a hospital pharmacist and pharmacy officer in the Army prior to becoming a professor at Campbell, one of two pharmacy schools in the state, 19 years ago.

"As a pharmacist, you have to take some responsibility," he said. "My purpose is more than just educating students; it's educating the community and consumers."

He said he is also trying to inform legislators of the problem and will travel to Washington next month to meet with them.