The cost of healthcare, including prescription drugs, is on the minds of patients across the country. Developing solutions to improve access to affordable care requires conversations and collaborations across a broad range of stakeholders in the U.S. healthcare system, including policymakers in Congress.
Recently, some lawmakers have suggested allowing importation of drugs from Canada and other foreign countries, rather than finding comprehensive solutions to manage the costs of healthcare at home. That might sound like a cheap and easy fix. But the result could be potentially dangerous to patients – and it may not even achieve lower drug costs.
The first thing to know is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not inspect or regulate medicines shipped to the U.S. from other countries like Canada. It is possible that these foreign drugs would not meet our safety standards, and may be dangerous.
For example, in 2015, federal prosecutors indicted the largest online pharmacy in Canada for selling $78 million worth of fake medications. Lab tests revealed that the drugs didn’t contain the right active ingredients, and some contained toxic ingredients. The result? Cancer patients who purchased or were given these drugs received counterfeit, dangerous and ineffective drugs instead1
That’s not an isolated case. About 96 percent of foreign pharmacies and other outlets that ship directly to American consumers do not comply with U.S. laws for medicine safety. FDA regulations are vitally important to keep patients safe.
The second thing to know is that importing medicines from countries like Canada wouldn’t even guarantee lower costs. Legislation allowing foreign drugs into the country would be a boon to wholesalers and other middlemen who could then mark up prices. Middlemen might absorb any potential savings – not patients.2 Importing foreign drugs to potentially just line the pockets of middlemen is not a solution U.S. lawmakers should support.
And suppose for a moment that Congress allowed drug importation but also required inspections of foreign drugs. That would require enormous amounts of resources for law enforcement and the FDA. The additional money that law enforcement and the FDA would need would likely quickly outweigh any potential savings to patients.3
Patients should have affordable access to the care and medicines they need. But real solutions won’t come from narrow, poorly conceived solutions such as simply importing unregulated and potentially hazardous drugs from Canada or abroad. In fact, four former FDA commissioners agree that importation is not a safe or realistic solution.4
We need a healthcare system that is focused on what is right for American patients – and that means greater access to affordable, safe and effective medicines, born from cutting edge scientific innovation made possible by the biopharmaceutical industry operating within America’s regulatory guidelines.