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Is Amazon Pharmacy Cheaper than an Online Canadian Pharmacy?

June 9, 2021

high drug prices

In the never-ending quest to find cheaper medications through an online pharmacy, Americans recently got excited about the possibility of finding relief through a new pharmacy — Amazon.

Amazon announced in the latter half of 2020 that they would be launching a pharmacy division of their business. Given that everyone seems to have an Amazon account these days (especially when people are staying home more), it’s understandable that people may have been initially interested in the prospect of an online one-stop-shop.

But is it possible that Amazon Pharmacy will save Americans money on their prescription drugs? Could it be a competitive alternative to Canadian online pharmacies?

Wait… Amazon Has a Pharmacy?

On November 17, 2020, Amazon launched its latest business venture — and yes, it’s called Amazon Pharmacy.

Overall, it integrates seamlessly with the entire website. You can search for medication using the search bar on the regular Amazon home page and it will default to Amazon Pharmacy because it will recognize the name as a prescription medication. (What else would you be looking for when you search for something called Euflexxa?)

While over-the-counter medications were already for sale at Amazon, the prescription drug offering is brand new. They even accept most forms of insurance, and orders are eligible for Amazon Prime 2-day shipping.

Essentially, Amazon has turned itself into an online big box store. Since they’ve acquired both Whole Foods and a license to be an online pharmacy, you can buy just about anything you need through their website.

For a company that started out as a bookseller, they’ve really branched out to become one of the largest companies in the world. Amazon Pharmacy is simply the next step in diversifying their portfolio and (probably) trying to cash in on a more than 300-billion-dollar industry.

How Amazon Pharmacy Works

The way Amazon Pharmacy works is essentially the same as every other online pharmacy you’d research.

You sign up, fill out your personal information and medical history, search for your medication, and then once it’s verified with your doctor, they’ll ship your medication to you.

They claim you can speak to a pharmacist whenever you want (a requirement for all legitimate online pharmacies), and — unlike the main Amazon website — they even have a phone number you can call.

Amazon Pharmacy says that their service works best when you’re looking for medications that you will need on a regular basis. Perhaps medications that you’d normally auto-refill, like birth control pills, or maintenance medications that manage conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or antidepressants.

Because they are a certified online pharmacy, they likely follow many of the similar safety guidelines that we follow at NorthWestPharmacy.com.

Why Amazon Pharmacy May Not Help Americans Save Much Money

The largest issue here is that Amazon Pharmacy is still incorporated in the United States and is subject to their pricing structure (if you can really call it a "structure"). The main reason that prescription drugs are so expensive in the U.S. is because the government maintains a hands-off approach with pharmaceutical companies.

In most countries, regulatory bodies within the government would have negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies to find what they believe to be a fair price for their residents or regulated the price of the drugs. This price is generally mutually agreeable — even if the pharmaceutical companies would rather charge a higher price.

It’s a bit of a delicate balance between the individual governments and the pharmaceutical companies.

On one hand, the government wants to make the medication available to its residents, so they are willing to make concessions where they feel it necessary.

On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies want to sell their medications in the country in question, but of course they want to turn a healthy profit while doing so.

Coming to a mutually agreeable price is of benefit to both parties, so they’re often willing to work with each other.

The issue in the United States is that this process is skipped altogether. While prescription drug prices aren’t the only issue, it is indicative of a larger philosophy in the U.S. regarding health policy.

Letting the Laws of Economics Rule

The U.S. has chosen to let the laws of economics rule their entire healthcare industry. Without getting too far into the weeds, it’s important to understand that one of the basic tenets of economics is a free market.

In a perfect world, a free market is essentially self-regulating. Supply and demand determine the price and quantity of what is produced, all of which will adjust based upon how the market is faring.

For example, if more people are being diagnosed with diabetes, the demand for diabetes medication would naturally increase. Not only would the supply need to increase in order to meet demand, the chances are good that the price would also increase.

Theoretically, this increased demand for diabetes medication would increase the demand for new medication. Pharmaceutical companies will research to see what new medication they can develop so help people living with diabetes. As additional medications enter the market, competition should (again, theoretically) drive the price down.

The problem with this is that we haven’t seen the price be driven down for quite some time. In fact, it’s been increasing on a consistent basis for many, many years — decades, even.

A review by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that the list price of branded prescription drugs rose 159% between 2007 and 2018. This comes out to be an increase of about 9% per year, which is at least three times the rate of inflation during each of those years.

The addition of Amazon Pharmacy in this space won’t likely have an effect on this aspect of the healthcare industry. It might make people feel like there’s more convenience involved, however, it is unlikely to save them much money because it won’t affect the way the U.S. government forms policy for prescription drugs pricing.

As long as the healthcare industry is viewed solely as a for-profit venture, we expect prescription drugs will continue to be expensive.

Patent Law Still Applies

Another major factor in the price of prescription drugs in the U.S. is their patent laws. Most patents for prescription drugs start at about 20 years. This means that no competing drugs following a similar formula can enter the market during this time.

In theory, this patent period is meant to help the pharmaceutical companies make back the money they’ve already spent creating the drug in the first place. This includes research and development, marketing, and application fees associated with the approval process.

While this makes sense for the most part — you’re giving the pharmaceutical companies first dibs in the market so they can re-invest that money back into new drugs that help people live healthier lives — the amount of money they spend (and where) is up for debate.

Pharmaceutical companies often give the impression that research and development is one of the largest determinants of the high prices they set. And who could argue with that logic?

People recognize that logically, it’s probably expensive to develop new medication. First of all, it takes years, there’s a lot of medical research involved, and that’s before you even have a product you can start testing on animals. Second, once you begin the testing phase, there is a ton of data analysis that must be conducted, which requires a huge investment of time and money.

No one is arguing that research and development isn’t expensive. However, the question is how much of their budgets are actually spent on R&D, versus what they’re implying.

A 2010 study reviewed the developers of 252 new drugs approved between 1998 and 2007 to determine where they were coming from. According to the researchers on the study, “The data indicate that drugs initially discovered in biotechnology companies or universities accounted for approximately half of the scientifically innovative drugs approved, as well as half of those that responded to unmet medical needs...”

What this means is that pharmaceutical companies aren’t doing as much of the heavy lifting as they’d like you to believe. A university or biotech company might be doing the actual research, and then the pharmaceutical company is purchasing their drug so they can claim the patent and profits.

Furthermore, a study by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that pharmaceutical companies spent an average of 19 times more on marketing than they did on research and development.

Again, this is not an aspect of the pharmaceutical industry that Amazon Pharmacy will affect. The prices are set by pharmaceutical companies.

By contrast, other countries have different patent laws, which means that generic versions of drugs are oftentimes available internationally before they’re available in the U.S. Likewise, because of pricing laws in other countries, drugs are often simply cheaper there.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, Amazon Pharmacy is simply another American pharmacy, and unlike their ability to source other cheaply made products that they can sell for pennies on the dollar, prescription drugs may not follow that suit.

Amazon Pharmacy does not change a single thing about the fundamentals as to why drugs are so expensive in the U.S. All it does is add another place where people can purchase their meds. It’s like adding a competing big box store a few blocks away — it won’t likely change the prices at the other store.

Just like any other online pharmacy in the United States (or internationally, for that matter), they will have to follow regulations set forth by local and national governments. And since the U.S. government has refused to take action on this front, Amazon Pharmacy may not save you more money than if you used an online Canadian pharmacy. We recommend comparing prices before deciding to make a purchase.

Getting Started with a Canadian Online Pharmacy

Americans who are looking to save money on their prescription medications would serve themselves best to look at international online pharmacies. For the reasons already mentioned, online international pharmacies and discount Canadian drugstores are able to offer the same medications at a lower price.

While some generic medication prices are similar in the U.S., it is often the case that branded medications are cheaper through Canadian or international online pharmacies. Depending on your medication, you could save anywhere between 20% and 90% every single month.

A significant number of our customers at NorthWestPharmacy.com are Americans. Many of these customers are populations hit the hardest by high prescription drug prices: senior citizens, the uninsured, and the unemployed, while others just want to save money.

Some of our best selling prescription medications are also some of the most expensive. While everyone has their own reasons for seeking out Canada’s drugs or those from other countries, the common thread among them is price. They need medication and they can’t afford to get it from their local pharmacy.

At NorthWestPharmacy.com, we’re dedicated to three things:

  1. Safety
  2. Customer service
  3. Getting you the lowest price possible on your medication

In fact, we’re so dedicated to offering the lowest prices, we guarantee it. If you find your medication cheaper elsewhere, tell us and we’ll beat it, subject to certain terms and conditions. But above all, we focus on safety, and our exceptional safety record proves it.

If you’re frustrated by manufacturer’s coupons and are in need of a reliable online pharmacy, give us a call today at 1-866-539-5330. Our call center is open seven days a week to assist you in any way that you might need.

We’re always happy to help you place your order or answer any questions you have. If you need to reach us outside of business hours, you can always do so by emailing us. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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