This editorial first appeared in The State Journal Constitution. John Redmond is a former FDA official who has more than 28 years of federal law enforcement experience. He finished his law enforcement career as the Special Agent in Charge of FDA’s Chicago Field Office.
Guest View: Drugs from foreign supply chains threaten Illinois patients’ safety
This editorial by John Redmond first appeared in The State Journal Constitution. John Redmond is a former FDA official who has more than 28 years of federal law enforcement experience. He ended his law enforcement career as the Special Agent in Charge of FDA’s Chicago Field Office.
Walk into any pharmacy in Illinois. Whether you’re in Belleville or Springfield, Joliet or Chicago, you can rest easy knowing the prescription medications you buy are safe to consume. Rigorous FDA oversight of the pharmaceutical supply chain protects Americans from the tens of millions of counterfeit medicines found in other nations.
Unfortunately, some politicians want to weaken the FDA’s authority. Numerous members of Congress have put forward bills and amendments to legalize drug importation. These politicos argue that allowing U.S. pharmacies, wholesalers and individuals to buy medicines from abroad would lower health care costs without endangering patients.
They’re wrong. As someone who has worked as a federal law enforcement officer for more than 28 years, I know these importation policies would expose Illinoisans to dangerous counterfeit medicines and illicit drugs. Furthermore, U.S. and Canada regulatory agencies do not have the manpower to enforce new rules as they would pertain to those entities deemed “Certified Foreign Sellers” in Canada.
Consider a few of the cases investigated by agents in my former office.
In 2015, law enforcement caught and charged Chicago pharmacist Michael Markiewicz for trafficking counterfeit Viagra and Cialis he had obtained from China. The pharmacist sold 1,600 of these unapproved male enhancement drugs for at least $20 per pill to Illinois clients without prescriptions.
Three years before the Chicago pharmacy case, my office worked with local, state and federal agencies to bust a synthetic drug ring that sold their products through their website. We caught and charged more than a dozen criminals for possessing and distributing synthetic drugs made with illegally imported chemicals. The consequences of this drug importation spanned several states. Two teenagers in North Dakota lost their lives as a result.
That same year my office worked on a case in which dozens of American medical practices purchased foreign counterfeits of the FDA-approved cancer drugs Avastin and Altuzan. These counterfeit medicines lacked the active ingredient. By the end of the investigation, we concluded that 76 doctors in 22 states had bought counterfeit drugs from the medical distributors under investigation. At least 10 of those physicians were based in northern Illinois.
Sadly, on the international scene, cases like these are the norm. The World Health Organization estimates that, in many countries, over 30 percent of medicines for sale are counterfeit. By importing medicines from outside U.S. supply chains, we would increase the chances of bringing in unsafe drugs from foreign nations.
Allowing our citizens to purchase their prescription drugs over the internet is a recipe for disaster. According the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), there are approximately 35,000 active online pharmacies. The NABP has reviewed more that 11,000 of these websites since 2008 and concluded that “96 percent of these online pharmacy websites are operating illegally, out of compliance with state and federal laws and/or NABP patient safety and pharmacy practice standards.” Another recent study by the NABP, that examined 100 online pharmacy websites that used “Canada” or “Canadian” in their website address or URL, found that 74 percent of these sites actually source their drugs from countries outside of Canada and none of these sites required a valid prescription from the consumer.
The link between illicit drug importation and organized crime is undeniable.
A recent investigation led by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh concluded that “drug importation would increase the threat of illegitimate products entering the United States, fueling criminal organizations’ activities and profits.” It’s no wonder that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA have consistently — under different presidential administrations, both Democrat and Republican — maintained that they cannot guarantee the safety of imported drugs.
In fact, the FDA has said it only has the resources needed to review a measly 1 percent of imported foods and drugs.
Illicit foreign drugs pose a serious health risk to patients, enrich organized crime groups, and undermine the legitimacy and trustworthiness of medical providers.
Legalizing drug importation would compromise legitimate supply chains and make it easier for criminals to sell dangerous and ineffective counterfeits to unsuspecting American patients. Illinois senators, congressmen, and state legislators would risk their constituents’ lives if they support drug importation bills.