Socioeconomic and Demographic Characteristics of US Adults Who Purchase Prescription Drugs From Other Countries | Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacology | JAMA Network Open | JAMA Network
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    Original Investigation
    Health Policy
    June 24, 2020

    Socioeconomic and Demographic Characteristics of US Adults Who Purchase Prescription Drugs From Other Countries

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Department of Health Services Research Management, and Policy, College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida, Gainesville
    • 2Department of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy, College of Pharmacy, University of Florida, Gainesville
    • 3Center for Drug Evaluation and Safety, University of Florida, Gainesville
    • 4Department of Community Health and Family Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville
    JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(6):e208968. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.8968
    Key Points español 中文 (chinese)

    Question  How many US adults buy or import drugs to save money, and what factors are associated with their purchase of medications outside the US?

    Findings  In this cross-sectional study of 61 238 US adults taking prescription medication, 1.5% reported medication purchases from countries outside the US. Use of the internet for health information and online pharmacy purchases was associated with medication purchases outside the US.

    Meaning  The findings suggest that patients are not using prescription purchases outside the US to meet their medication needs.


    Importance  Little is known about the current use of imported drugs and the factors associated with individual purchase of medications outside the US.

    Objective  To evaluate the proportion of the US adult population that purchases medications in other countries and the patient factors associated with the behavior.

    Design, Setting, and Participants  This retrospective cross-sectional study used data from the 2015-2017 National Health Interview Survey. The study sample included 61 238 individuals 18 years or older who reported use of prescribed medication by a physician or other practitioner. Data analysis was performed in November 2019.

    Main Outcomes and Measures  Self-reported experience of purchasing prescription drugs from countries outside the US in the past 12 months. Internet use behaviors for health care included searches for health information and filling of a prescription online. Medication-taking behaviors included skipping or delaying filling a prescription and using alternative therapies to save money. Survey design–adjusted analysis was used to estimate and compare characteristics between those who purchased medications outside the US and those did not. Multivariable logistic regression was fitted to examine the association of medication purchases with internet use and medication-taking behavior factors.

    Results  Among 61 238 US adults taking prescription medications (mean [SD] age, 50.5 [18.5] years; 56.5% female; 70.8% white), the estimated prevalence of purchasing of medication outside the US was 1.5% (95% CI, 1.4%-1.7%; 2.3 million US individuals). Those who purchased medications outside the US were more likely to be older (age >64 years; adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.68; 95% CI, 1.24-2.29), to be from Hispanic (aOR, 1.70; 95% CI, 1.23-2.35) or immigrant populations (aOR, 3.20; 95% CI, 2.44-4.20), and to have higher educational attainment (bachelor's degree; aOR, 1.79; 95% CI, 1.27-2.54), lower family income (low income; aOR, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.06-1.87), and lack of insurance (aOR, 3.14; 95% CI, 2.33-4.21). Data analyses indicated that online health information–seeking behavior (aOR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.33-1.98) or use of an online pharmacy (aOR, 2.30; 95% CI, 1.83-2.90) was associated with a greater likelihood of medication purchases outside the US. Individuals who skipped medications (aOR, 3.86; 95% CI, 3.05-4.88) or delayed filling a prescription (aOR, 4.04, 95% CI, 3.23-5.06) also had higher odds of purchasing medication outside the US.

    Conclusions and Relevance  The findings suggest that patients are not using prescription purchases outside the US to meet their medication needs. However, monitoring to promote safe administration of medications imported into the US should be continued.