A Survey of the Use of Foreign-Purchased Medications in a Border Community Emergency Department Patient Population


      Many reports suggest that the use of imported medications in the United States continues to grow, fueled mostly by the rising price of prescription drugs. This trend may be problematic for several reasons, including the potential for counterfeit or impure products, a lack of pharmacist support outside of the United States, and the ability to purchase agents without a prescription from some countries. We performed a survey of Emergency Department (ED) patients in a border community to observe the magnitude of imported medication use, and to begin to determine the rationale behind the practice. A survey was conducted of 1008 ED patient encounters of individuals reporting at triage to be on any prescription or over-the-counter medication. Participants were queried on their use of imported medications and implications of such use through a questionnaire. A total of 966 patient encounter surveys were included in the analysis. Of this number, 7% reported the use of medications purchased outside of the United States. Most of these were purchased in person and in Mexico. The most commonly cited reason for importing medications was decreased cost, and almost a quarter of those importing medications stated that their physician had recommended it. The most common medications imported were antibiotics, and nearly a third of all of those buying foreign medications had done so without a prescription. Our study suggests that many patients in our community purchase medications outside of the United States.


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