Prescription drugs are pricey, and as with most other products, consumers ought to have the right to shop around for the best price. Safety, however, must take precedence when it comes to medications, and a new state law could cause more harm than good.

LD 449, set to go into effect this summer, will once again allow Mainers to access prescriptions through mail-order pharmacies in other countries.

According to a recent Associated Press report, it was last August when then-Attorney General William Schneider ended a state contract with prescription service CanaRx, saying the program violated state law because the service couldn’t be licensed in Maine. The outcry was sufficient enough to warrant the law change, largely because of the money.

CanaRx, located in Canada, says people can save up to 80 percent off U.S. retail prices on brand name prescription medications. That’s a significant amount, so it’s no surprise that the state and other private citizens have flocked to out-of-country pharmacies.

While safety problems were not an issue while state employees were using CanaRx, it’s worth noting that they’re not the only online pharmacy ”“ and not all online providers are equal.

Buying outside of the U.S. is taking a risk, for sure. In fact, the FDA has warned of online pharmacies that purport to be located in Canada, but actually send products from other locations with lesser standards. While CanaRx says its medications are purchased from licensed retailers or wholesalers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom and supplied direct to the patient, even those countries’ drugs are not necessarily approved by the FDA for safety. While these countries have higher standards than some, they’re still not U.S. standards.

The FDA notes that products without FDA approval “come from unknown sources and foreign locations, or may not have been manufactured under proper conditions.” That’s why they recommend purchasing drugs only from U.S. sources.

The state appears to have done its homework when it chose CanaRx, but we agree with the former attorney general’s concerns about using pharmacies that are not licensed here. Consumers have no way of knowing if the manufacturing, handling and packaging of their medications was done in a safe manner when they’re getting a product that isn’t FDA-approved. They also have little recourse if they end up with the wrong medication, a sugar pill, incorrect dosage, or misuse the drug because they cannot read the foreign language instructions.

Prescription medications literally mean life or death for many people, from diabetics to heart patients, and it’s not something to fool around with on quality and safety just to save a buck. As the Maine Pharmacy Association has noted, generic drugs can be purchased in the U.S. for much lower prices than brand name medications, all while staying stateside and safe.

Also of concern is the possibility that allowing international prescription drugs into Maine may violate federal law, since the FDA states that it’s illegal to import drugs from other countries when they haven’t been approved by the FDA for use and sale in the U.S.

Maine should not be in the position of going against federal law and potentially endangering the health of its citizens, particularly state and municipal workers who will not have an alternative pharmacy program from which to choose if their employer signs up for mail-order medications.

Yes, prescription costs are too high in the U.S. and health care reform in general is long overdue. But that doesn’t mean we should endanger our health and safety by sending away for medications that haven’t been vetted at U.S. standards. It also doesn’t justify putting our locally licensed pharmacies at a disadvantage, competing with overseas entities that are not held to the same rules.

Ӣ Ӣ Ӣ

Today’s editorial was written by Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski on behalf of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Kristen by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].