Drug Importation Isn’t The Long-Term Solution
Though drug importation may seem like a logical solution to a very real drug pricing problem, importing drugs from Canada or other foreign sources is not good for individual consumers or the American economy. There are two main reasons:
- There is currently no way to ensure the drugs meet the strict safety regulations set by the FDA, allowing for counterfeiters to infiltrate the drug supply chain, even when one thinks the drugs are safe.
- There is no guarantee that cost savings would be passed on to the consumer when states attempt to set up programs.
When drugs flow through Canada (or other countries) into the U.S., there’s no regulatory body making sure that the medicines someone orders are the medicines they receive. In fact, 85% of drugs sold on “Canadian pharmacy” websites are not actually from Canada. Instead, these drugs come from countries that lack strict safety guidelines. This means drugs may be stored at unsafe temperatures, formulated with unsafe ingredients, or may be completely counterfeit with no therapeutic ingredients at all.
(You may be wondering, “What about drugs imported from Canada? Doesn’t the Canadian government check the drugs to make sure they’re safe?” Yes, but only for Canadian citizens. When a drug flows through Canada and into the U.S., Canada does not regulate or certify the safety of that drug. And the FDA also does not regulate these drugs, since it is left out of the supply chain completely.) There is no agency, government or otherwise, that can certify that the drug is what it says it is and is safe.
Counterfeiters have gotten sophisticated.
Many people think counterfeit drugs have tell-tale packaging or labels. However, improvements in counterfeiting technology has made it cheaper and easier to produce fake packaging and labels, making it nearly impossible for consumers and even authorities to detect counterfeits.
Life-essential medications, like diabetes prescription drugs, are counterfeited more often because of the high price counterfeiters can charge for them.
And it’s not just diabetes drugs. In 2006, more than a million counterfeit test strips were sold to U.S. consumers in 35 different states. Nobody along the U.S. supply chain was able to tell the counterfeit strips from the real ones. It’s easy to imagine the harmful effects that ineffective diabetes medicines or supplies could cause. These counterfeit drugs have deadly consequences, as was the case when a woman in Nigeria died of hyperglycemia after being treated with fake insulin.
People in favor of legalizing drug importation often say it would strengthen the drug markets or free trade. Generic drugs make up 90% of U.S. drug sales, and generic drugs already cost less in the U.S. than in other developed countries. Importation would not reduce all U.S. consumer costs in meaningful ways. And for drug reimportation, there are exportation issues from outside the U.S.
Drug reimportation is when U.S.-manufactured drugs are exported for sale to other countries and then sold back to U.S. consumers at the price negotiated between the government of the other country and the manufacturers. Contracts between the other country and the manufacturer may impose export limits or regulatory caps on the amount of drugs given to that country. If there is a significant increase in the sales of certain prescription drugs, the country may choose to discontinue any exportation of those drugs to ensure there is enough for their own citizens.
We need to keep looking for other solutions.
Drug importation is not a long-term solution to address the pricing of prescription drugs in the United States. DPAC is committed to continue working with stakeholders to find both short- and long-term solutions that will keep people with diabetes safe and provide access to affordable prescription drugs.
Read our Drug Importation Statement for more information.