Pennsylvania man drives to Canada for son's $15K medication. The US price? $50K

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A Pennsylvania man drives six hours to Canada every three months to purchase medication for his son, who has a skin condition called alopecia areata. The medication restores Jon Yeagley's 20-year-old son's hair for $15,000 a year — more than three times less than what it would cost the Yeagleys in the U.S., according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Here are five highlights from the report:

1. Alopecia areata occurs when a person's immune system attacks hair follicles, leading to sudden hair loss. Xeljanz, made by Pfizer and used to treat the disease, would cost the Yeagley family $50,000 a year, as the medication is not covered by their health insurance plan. So the family uses a $15,000 Pfizer rebate to get three months of the treatment in the U.S., and then travels to Canada three times a year to get the rest of the treatment, costing $3,700 for a three-month supply.

2. Trips like Mr. Yeagley's six-hour drive to a Walmart in Canada, which he arrives at by crossing the border at Buffalo, N.Y., are likely on the rise. In the past nine months, the FDA projects about 22,000 FDA-regulated products were intercepted at international mail facilities. That's compared to 13,500 interceptions in the previous 12 months, for an increase of 62 percent, according to data cited by the Inquirer.

3. While the FDA prohibits importing prescription medication from other countries to the U.S., the agency rarely enforces the rules for individuals bringing in small amounts of prescription medication for personal use, according to the report.

4. At one time Mr. Yeagley did buy Xeljanz for his son in the U.S. However, the drug — which is approved by the FDA to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but is believed by some researchers to be effective in stimulating hair growth — began to rise in price. To get a prescription across the border, Mr. Yeagley met with a Canadian physician via video consultation. The physician wrote a prescription that could be filled in Canada near the U.S. border.

5. Jeremy Kahn, an FDA spokesperson, told the Inquirer in an emailed statement, "There's no way for the FDA or any federal agency to truly know the scope of the problem." While the agency staffs international mail facilities as a "frontline defense against illegal, illicit, unapproved, counterfeit, and potentially dangerous drugs entering the U.S.," he said, "the sheer volume of drugs that are being shipped through the IMFs far exceeds our interdiction capabilities."

To access the full report from The Philadelphia Inquirer, click here.

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