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Old 20.12.2014, 00:32
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Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

Hi guys and girls,

Short and to the point: my nephew (4yo) has leukemia and lives in Argentina. He's needs a medicine which is not available there (Lanvis, link). But it is here. I have a scan of the original prescription in Spanish.

Is there any way I could buy it here and ship it asap via international currier to Argentina? He should start on it next Wednesday so the matter is pretty urgent.

Any hint is highly appreciated! Thanks a lot in advance!

Cheers
Gonzalo
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Old 20.12.2014, 01:15
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

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Hi guys and girls,

Short and to the point: my nephew (4yo) has leukemia and lives in Argentina. He's needs a medicine which is not available there (Lanvis, link). But it is here. I have a scan of the original prescription in Spanish.

Is there any way I could buy it here and ship it asap via international currier to Argentina? He should start on it next Wednesday so the matter is pretty urgent.

Any hint is highly appreciated! Thanks a lot in advance!

Cheers
Gonzalo
First of all, I'm really sorry about your nephew.

Unfortunately, I think you will have more difficulty than you think shipping medicines across international borders. Medicines are highly regulated, every country has its own list of drugs which are approved for use, the quality of supplies is ensured by a chain of paperwork, and distribution only occurs through registered pharmacies/by registered pharmacists. And a pharmacist would be struck off the register for filling a prescription that is just a PDF scan. Doctors have those special pads for a reason.

In special cases, your pharmacist here could probably send the medicine to the boy's pharmacist in Argentina for distribution, but this requires a whole lot of paperwork. The Authorities in Argentina would also most certainly require that the drug is approved for use in Argentina. And this would take time that you probably don't have and an extreme amount of goodwill from your Swiss pharmacist who would have to correctly fill out all of the forms.

But I have to ask, why is a medicine prescribed by a local doc not available in Argentina? If it's a supply shortage, the local pharmacist should be able to make some phone calls and try to source some. If it's not distributed at all in Argentina, the doctor should know that, since they only are supposed to write prescriptions from their own pharmacopeia.

Regardless, the pharmacist and the doctor should be in contact with each other and working on this problem. One solution would be to issue a prescription for a different anti-metabolite cyclostatic like 6-mercaptopurine which might be more readily available.

I really hope the best for your nephew. May he get well soon!
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Old 20.12.2014, 01:23
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

Thanks for the reply, Tox_Rat!

About availability, yes, as you guessed, the issue is a supply shortage, not that the drug is not legal/distributed in Argentina.

My sister is currently trying to see if the pharmacists/doctors can request the drug directly from a neighboring country (Brazil seems to have it), but I wanted to see if there was any way I could help out from here given that the availability seems to be a non-issue here, but I am well aware of the fact that is it not easy to ship even if I manage to buy it.

Thx!
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Old 20.12.2014, 01:37
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

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Thanks for the reply, Tox_Rat!

About availability, yes, as you guessed, the issue is a supply shortage, not that the drug is not legal/distributed in Argentina.

My sister is currently trying to see if the pharmacists/doctors can request the drug directly from a neighboring country (Brazil seems to have it), but I wanted to see if there was any way I could help out from here given that the availability seems to be a non-issue here, but I am well aware of the fact that is it not easy to ship even if I manage to buy it.

Thx!
1. The pharmacists/doctors could also try calling GSK directly and asking whether it's a distribution problem for them or if supplies truly are that low. It's best to let them do this as they get priority on their special hotline.

2. As I said, as an alternative, there are other, similar drugs in the same compound class which are also commonly prescribed for childhood leukemia. Unless your nephew's case has some special considerations for which the GSK drug is preferred, these alternatives might be the best option. But a good pharmacist can generally find a source given a few days or so.
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Old 20.12.2014, 06:29
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

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a pharmacist would be struck off the register for filling a prescription that is just a PDF scan. Doctors have those special pads for a reason.
While I agree the OP may not be able to do what they've suggested, this bit is incorrect. I regularly have a pdf prescription emailed to me by my (Swiss) doctor that's accepted by the pharmacy with no question.
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Old 20.12.2014, 07:38
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

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While I agree the OP may not be able to do what they've suggested, this bit is incorrect. I regularly have a pdf prescription emailed to me by my (Swiss) doctor that's accepted by the pharmacy with no question.
Yep, any prescription I get from my doctor here is a computer print out and he doesn't even sign it, the signature is pre-scanned on.
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Old 20.12.2014, 10:08
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

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While I agree the OP may not be able to do what they've suggested, this bit is incorrect. I regularly have a pdf prescription emailed to me by my (Swiss) doctor that's accepted by the pharmacy with no question.
You're right, I didn't explain that well, I should clarify. Switzerland has a digital prescription system. From within Switzerland, your doctor actually puts the prescription into the computer system which the pharmacist can access. This works pretty much like any ticketing system (for example the airlines), the prescription number on the piece of paper that you have acts as the key to for the lock that is the prescription in the computerized system.

:tangent: There are a number of digital security features on the PDF emailed to you by your doctor, these act to prevent forgery in the same way that the security paper of the printouts provided by the doctors do. This system is actually more secure than the traditional pen and paper system available elsewhere, precisely because the "prescription pad" isn't valid until the computer system adds the validity. In the US, for instance, unused prescription pads have to be locked up because they get stolen all the time. :/tangent:

But the OP's prescription is from outside this system and would therefore require an actual signature from an actual doctor. Most countries allow the pharmacist a certain amount of professional judgement which would include filling occasional "foreign" prescriptions, but these tend to be repeat prescriptions of the "oops I forgot my insulin"-sort for tourists/students/etc. In the OP's case, he would be trying to fill a prescription for a restricted drug, for a third party, from a doctor not licensed in Switzerland using only what is essentially a photocopy . This would be seen as unethical and irresponsible by the licensing board and the pharmacist would be struck off. The point is moot anyway, since the OP would then be trying to ship the drugs across international borders without a license.

I know where the OP is coming from, he/she is frustrated at the drug supply situation, powerless that this cancer is happening to someone he/she loves, and just generally that a need to to do everything he/she can to help. Loads of cancer survivors all say that it was harder on their families than it was on themselves. Unfortunately, this is just one of those situations where all you can do is wait and let other people do their jobs...
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Old 23.12.2014, 13:44
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

@Tox_Rat: unfortunately, "waiting and let people do their jobs" is not an approach that works in 3rd world countries.

But, things turned out quite alright.

I leave this info here in case anyone in the future is in the same situation.

The pharmacy accepted a picture taken of the original prescription as a valid prescription after explaining the case. They sales person ran it through a more experienced guy, they took my order, and Monday morning I was able to pick it up.

As for the shipping, I called the Argentinean embassy to check if they had a diplomatic fast-lane to ship it, but they don't (at least, not in time, the next shipping would be in a few weeks). But they recommended me using a private international courier. I explicitly asked about the legality of using such a service, and they said that considering the medicine is allowed in Argentina, it is not illegal to bring in the country.

In the end, we found a friend flying to argentina on Monday night, who was kind enough to bring it with him.

In the meantime, family and friends everywhere else were trying to get one of these from different countries and found that in Spain, Uruguay and Chile it was possible without major complications, just like here.

My main take away of all this, is that when there are lives on the line, people is willing to loosen up bureaucracy, and that's a good thing!

Cheers and happy holidays!
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Old 23.12.2014, 14:19
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear that it all worked out.

Merry Christmas!
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Old 23.12.2014, 14:27
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Re: Buying oncological medicine with prescription from abroad

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Switzerland has a digital prescription system.
Some cantons perhaps, but not here.

My wife's doctor sometimes does fax prescriptions, though.

Tom
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