Need expat info for USA?
After hospitals and doctor’s practices, US pharmacies are the most important place to turn to when you get sick. They don’t just store and sell medication, they also have trained staff who can help you figure out which medication you need as well as tell you about possible side effects and the right dosage of your medication.
You can find US pharmacies in doctor’s offices and hospitals, but also in drug stores and supermarkets all over the country. You can ask your doctor to order your medication directly at the pharmacy or you can take your prescription there personally.
Facts and Figures
One thing you do not have to fear when moving to the United States is that you will struggle to get your hands on any medication while you are there. With about 67,000 US pharmacies located all over the country, medication is not difficult to come by. Most of them are, as mentioned above, located in drug stores, hospitals, and so on. The rest are privately owned or independent.
The leading chains not only make for 28,000 of all US pharmacies, but also function as major employers in the USA. They offer jobs to more than 46,000 on-staff pharmacists in the country. California tops the list as the state with the highest number of US pharmacies.
Ask Your Pharmacist For Help
So far, you may have only viewed your pharmacist as the guy who hands out the drugs at your local grocery store. But talking to the staff at US pharmacies and asking for advice on your medication, its dosage, and its possible side effects is essential. After all, you are confronted with a highly trained staff there, who can answer any of your questions.
This is particularly important if you have any allergies, or are sensitive to specific components of certain medications. A pharmacist can also tell you if the prescribed medication can be mixed with another drug you are taking at the time. If you wish to save some money, they will know if there is a generic version of the medication which is cheaper.
Generic Drugs and Over-The-Counter Medication
As mentioned above, there are often generic drugs, which are identical to the brand product your doctor might have prescribed you. Generic drugs are of the same dosage, strength, safety, and quality as their famous big brother but come at a much lower price. Just like the original, they are subject to the rules and controls as stipulated by the FDA. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that patients save between $8 and $10 billion per year that way.
You can ask the staff at US pharmacies if there is a generic equivalent to the medication you need or browse Drugs@FDA. Keep in mind that you will not always find a generic drug for your medication as patents are protected for 20 years. Only after the patent has expired can pharmaceutical companies produce an equivalent.
For minor ailments, such as headaches or mild allergies, you don’t have to turn to US pharmacies but you can fall back on over-the-counter medication instead. Drug stores and average grocery stores usually offer a variety of over-the-counter medication for conditions ranging from nausea to the common flu. The advantage of these is that they are easily available and that you do not need a prescription from a doctor to pick them up. On the downside, you miss out on the advice you would get at US pharmacies.
Importing Your Own Medication
Generally, individuals are not permitted to import drugs to the United States, even if these are for their personal use only. The reason for this is that most foreign medication has not been approved by the FDA and, thus, the Food and Drug Administration cannot guarantee their safety. In short, if it cannot be purchased and sold legally by US pharmacies, it is illegal for you to import it.
However, the FDA follows a policy which allows exceptions. This means that the US government might let you import prescription drugs for your personal use if:
- You have a serious medical condition for which effective treatment is otherwise not available in the US.
- You do not intend to promote or sell said medication to US citizens.
- Your medication does not present an unreasonable risk.
- You can prove that the drug is for your personal use only and that the medication is part of a continuous treatment. (You should also provide the contact information of your doctor.)
- You do not take along more than a three-month supply.
If you are unsure whether you can take your medication with you, talk to an experienced doctor prior to your move or contact US Customs and Border Protection.
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