Canada, home of the maple leaf and high-scoring hockey teams, is fast gaining a reputation for something else cheap drugs.

Americans have been buying lower-cost prescription medications from Canada for years now, via the Internet and sometimes even by making trips to the neighboring country.

Now, a company assists U.S. customers in obtaining low-cost prescriptions. The first Canada Med in California has opened at 422 S. Washington St., Sonora, and the owners, Wendall and Nan Snider, said their phones are ringing almost nonstop.

Senior citizens and people without insurance make up the bulk of customers, Wendall Snider said. They often see drastic drops in medicine costs, he said.

"I've just purchased one prescription from them so far," said new Canada Med customer Josephine Esparza of Jamestown. "I have been saving considerably I would estimate that it's just about half of what I would ordinarily pay."

Bev Breed, fiscal officer at the Tuolumne County Senior Center, said a study of some of her clients showed 65 percent of them take in less than $12,000 a year, making cheap prescriptions extremely appealing, if not critical.

"It has a huge impact, because they have to buy their drugs before they can buy their food or any other things," she said.

Breed herself has bought prescriptions from Canada by way of the Internet for years, and saves from 30 to 40 percent on medication.

"But I know of some seniors here at the center who had some really expensive drugs," she said. "I found them almost 50 percent off, so you know it's worth it to look."

Prescription medication prices in the U.S. are not being regulated, Wendall Snider said.

"The U.S. has the highest cost of drugs in the world," he said. "I think we are being taken advantage of. In all candor, I hope to be out of business in five years, and I hope to be put out of business by the American government doing what is right."

Americans save money in Canada for two reasons: One, the U.S. dollar is worth about 30 percent more, and two, the Canadian government dictates prices on prescription drugs and the price difference is huge, Snider said.