American politicians have been promising for years they could lower the price of prescription drugs by allowing imports from abroad. Federal legislation has fizzed as politicians and the American people wisely concluded the risks are definitely not worth any savings.
Republican candidate Donald Trump has not read this history and therefore appears doomed to repeat the mistake. In his seven-point health plan, he said that, as president, he would: “Remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products… Allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers.”
But politicians can’t guarantee “safe, reliable and cheaper” drugs. Once the door is open, swindlers, crooks, and worse will rush in to take advantage of the cracks in the supply chain to flood the U.S. market with fake, counterfeit, and contaminated drugs.
We know this from experience.
In August of 2003, during the earlier drug importation debate, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) examined mail shipments of imported drugs flowing to U.S. consumers through Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Carson, CA. Investigators found that 88% of the drugs they examined did not meet FDA standards. The packages often contained dangerous, unapproved, or counterfeit drugs.
A second inspection blitz in November of 2003—at the Buffalo, Dallas, Chicago and Seattle mail facilities and the Memphis and Cincinnati courier hubs—revealed similar problems: 1,728 “unapproved drugs” among the 1,982 parcels inspected. The unapproved drugs included “foreign versions” of FDA-approved drugs, recalled drugs, drugs requiring special storage conditions, drugs requiring close physician monitoring, and animal drugs not approved for humans.
Former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, under whose leadership the investigations took place, warned that drug importation “creates a wide channel for large volumes of unapproved drugs and other products to enter the United States that are potentially injurious to public health and pose a threat to the security of our Nation’s drug supply.”