Faced with skyrocketing costs, several readers have told us they've ordered EpiPens from Canada as a way to save money. But we found that there are safer, cheaper options for getting these life-saving devices right here in the U.S.

The biggest problem with trying to order EpiPens from Canada or any other country outside the U.S. is that you can't be sure of what you're getting. Most internet pharmacies claiming to be Canadian are not, says Carmen Catizone, the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. “Frequently, they are fake storefronts selling unapproved drugs that are counterfeit or poorly made.” 

In June 2015, for example, the Food and Drug Administration took action against more than 1,050 sites, seizing products being sold fraudulently as FDA-approved prescription drugs and medical devices. Catizone points out that of the almost 11,000 online drug outlets that NABP recently reviewed, only about 4 percent were operating according to U.S. laws and standards.

Here's why that's a problem: Medications sold through illegitimate websites have been found to contain too much, too little, or no active ingredients, or in some cases, a different drug entirely, according to a 2013 report from the government's General Accounting Office. Some even contained dangerous contaminants, including toxic yellow highway paint, heavy metals, and rat poison.

It's critically important that the quality of an EpiPen is not compromised, says Catizone. "People rely on them to deliver a precise amount of epinephrine to counteract life-threatening allergic reactions," he says. "In an emergency, you can't risk having a device that contains the wrong drug or dose or that doesn't work properly."

Ordering from a questionable website puts your personal and financial information at risk as well. You might find yourself inundated with spam email or your computer could be infected by a virus.

What About Brick-and-Mortar Pharmacies?

Canada does have strict laws governing the quality of medications similar to those in the U.S., so if you happen to be visiting the country, you could safely buy EpiPens from a brick-and-mortar pharmacy and be reasonably certain of getting a legitimate product. The devices are sold over the counter in that country for about $80 each in U.S. dollars. 

However, in most cases, it's illegal to bring medication purchased outside of the U.S. back into the country. If you have a prescription for the medication, government officials typically won't stop you. But there's always a risk that EpiPens purchased in Canada or another country could be seized when you go through customs at the U.S. border.

Ways to Save at Home

Rather than risk trying to order EpiPens from Canada or carrying them over the border, we found you can get a better deal at a U.S. pharmacy. For example, the generic version of the Adrenaclick auto-injector sells for $140 for a set of two pens at Walmart with a coupon from GoodRx.com. (The manufacturer also offers a co-pay coupon.) That device works similarly to an EpiPen and delivers the same drug, in the same dosages.

Another option is to use a coupon from Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, which is good for up to $300 off your insurance co-pay on a two-pack of pens. For those without health insurance, the company also offers a patient assistance program that provides free auto-injector pens to people who meet the income qualifications.

Plus, Mylan recently announced that the company will start selling generic EpiPens that are exactly the same as the branded version yet cost half as much. If your pens have not expired, it's worth waiting a few weeks for this new generic to hit the market. Your insurance might cover it at a lower co-pay than brand-name EpiPens. 

Note that it's fine to order online from the websites of U.S. drugstores that you know and trust as well as legitimate internet pharmacies operating within the U.S. To confirm that a site is safe and legal, look for “.pharmacy” at the end of the web address, which shows that the site is licensed and has been verified by the NABP. Or look for the seal from the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites program, or VIPPS, indicating that the company completed voluntary accreditation through that organization.

Editor's Note: This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).