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New store will offer Canadian drug prices

The office will serve customers who don't have a computer or who are uncomfortable filling their prescriptions on the Internet.

By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003

BAYONET POINT -- Their partnership began over lunch at the Blue Dolphin Restaurant on State Road 52.

On that day in January, Fred Stieber, an 86-year-old retired financial analyst, and John Glass, a 57-year-old who worked in cable television, discussed plans to begin a new venture: helping area seniors get cheaper drugs from Canada.

Since then, the pair has rented an office in Beacon Woods Plaza on U.S. 19. Last week they were putting the final touches on their office, with battleship gray carpet and photographs of New York City skyscrapers on the walls.

On Monday, they will open the doors at Hometown Meds of Florida and wait for seniors to come, prescriptions in hand.

"We will do everything for them, help them every step of the way," Glass said.

The men have partnered with a Canadian pharmacy called Hometown Meds, a division of Carman Pharmacy in Manitoba.

Customers can go into the store, provide prescription information and get help ordering drugs from Canada. The store is meant for anyone who does not have a computer or is uncomfortable ordering drugs over the Internet. Customers can order up to three months' worth of prescription drugs, typically at a cost 30 to 60 percent less than they would pay in the United States.

It won't cost customers more ordering from the store vs. over the Internet, Glass said. His company will receive a percentage of all sales from the Canadian pharmacy, although Glass declined to discuss the details of the financial arrangement.

Since July 2002, Hometown Meds has shipped prescription drugs to Americans.

Glass and Stieber contacted Hometown Meds earlier this year and asked if the company wanted to partner. Their idea was to open a storefront location to attract seniors who may not be comfortable navigating the Internet.

Hometown Meds liked the idea. This is their first storefront location in the United States, said company president Paul Clark. If the venture is successful, the company will consider opening others in the area, he said.

"This is giving people the opportunity to deal with someone face to face," Clark said.

The store will not stock any drugs, Glass said. Instead, customers can arrive and order from a selection of up to 15,000 different types of drugs from the Canadian pharmacy, which will ship prescriptions to a customer's house.

Customers cannot order drugs that need refrigeration, or narcotics such as codeine, Glass said.

Similar operations have been opening across Florida. Earlier this month, Discount Medicine of Canada opened an office in Pinellas Park. The locally owned company will forward its customers' requests to CanAmerica Drugs Inc. in Manitoba.

It is unclear exactly how many storefront locations exist, but a lawyer for the Florida Board of Pharmacy has estimated that about six are in operation across the state.

Although shipping drugs from Canada to the United States is technically illegal, U.S. customs officials have not seriously interfered with Canadian pharmacies that are filling reasonable amounts of prescriptions for individuals.

Customers cannot submit insurance information for payment to Canadian pharmacies, Glass said, but in some cases, customers will still be able to get cheaper drugs.

For a tablet of Zocor, a drug for high cholesterol, customers in the U.S. will pay $3.72 for a 20 milligram tablet, Glass said. Hometown Meds offers the same pill for $1.37, a 63 percent savings.

For orders placed with Hometown Meds, shipping will cost $15, Glass said.

He hopes his store, and others, will help seniors get cheaper drugs.

"Our American economy has really placed a burden on those people who have medical problems," Glass said. "They can save some money here."

The store, at 12342 U.S. 19, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 697-3333.

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