Revisiting a proposal to allow drug importation is a mistake
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As a lifelong champion for affordable healthcare, I’m deeply frustrated with the way some in Washington are pushing to undermine the safety of our drug supply. They are looking to open America’s borders to “medicines” from foreign countries. Indeed, initiatives under consideration by Congress endanger public health and reflect the worst excesses of unregulated markets.

They put our kids and the most vulnerable among us at risk. They also run counter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiatives that my former committee — House Energy & Commerce — helped spearhead in recent decades, including the Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA) that tightened the prescription drug supply chain in the United States.

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At first blush, the idea of drug importation appears attractive. Foreign pharmacies, operating on the Internet and parading as those that operate in Canada and the United Kingdom (among other countries), seem to offer medicines at far lower prices compared to the United States - sometimes pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, these pharmacies are masquerading as legitimate businesses, but they’re not.

 

The United States is a nation that prides itself on safety and security, but we cannot begin to estimate the true financial costs that counterfeit medicines would have as a result of negative impact to Americans’ health.

It is impossible for the U.S. government to regulate drugs that are coming in from all over the world, outside of the FDA’s oversight. And this is a big problem because almost 96 percent of all Internet pharmacies — more than 10,000 in all — are scams of one sort or another, according to a comprehensive study conducted by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Many websites that display a maple leaf or union jack are actually located in or sourcing drugs from countries like Nigeria or China where facilities aren’t inspected or regulated by the FDA.

Quite simply, sourcing drugs from outside the United States could mean American patients are exposed to drugs that have no or too little active ingredient, harmful fillers, or actual poisons. The European Union has seen counterfeit drugs in their supply for decades and the consequences are real.

In 2014, the World Health Organization, Interpol and the World Customs Organization joined together to seize more than 9 million counterfeit medications that treat cancer, cholesterol and malaria. In black market terms, this amounted to more than $36 million. Countless other raids and seizures demonstrate that the problem is getting worse.

In India, 8,000 patients died as a result of one hospital not having an active ingredient in a common antibiotic used following surgery.

There’s also the tragic example of an Arizona grandmother who passed away in 2011 after taking a counterfeit cancer drug that turned out to be tap water and mold. The drug supplier was based in Canada.

Under a system that allowed unregulated importation of foreign drugs (whether it be for personal or commercial use), Americans would put down good money and get worthless or dangerous medicine. Previous experiments with importation have failed miserably and future efforts would only exacerbate the challenges we have when it comes to ensuring that Americans have access to high-quality medicines.

Finally, allowing the importation of unregulated, uninspected medicines sold by anybody from abroad represents the very worst of the ongoing “deregulation-at-any-cost” crusade. Although United States drug safety regulations would still remain in force, the unregulated importation of drugs from other countries would render them a dead letter while simultaneously worsening the opioid challenges we’re dealing with across the country.

Ultimately, Members of Congress should be focusing on three things: protecting Americans, creating jobs, and ensuring access to healthcare. Forthright support for all three will help many politicians gain support in the sure-to-be-competitive 2018 elections in a way that gutting drug safety protections just wouldn’t.

In the meantime, elected officials at all levels must realize that attractive sounding plans to allow foreign drugs into the United States are likely to do immense harm. We must prevent it.

Ron Klink is a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and is currently senior policy adviser at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.


The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.