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Importing Danger: The Global Threat of Parallel Importation

The United States has one of the safest drug supplies in the world because its pharmaceutical supply system is “closed” to importation and parallel trade. Once a drug is outside the strictly regulated United States distribution channel, there is no guarantee of its authenticity, effectiveness, or safety.

Drug importation supporters think that simply because drugs are purchased from “safe” countries such as Canada and Britain, they are actually made in those countries and are subject to strict regulations and oversight. But this is a dangerous misconception.

For example, if pharmaceuticals are not earmarked for Canadian citizens, they are not subject to the Canadian government’s safety regulations. By marking the drugs “for export only,” drug exporters can make Canada a post office box for fake or low-quality drugs from China, India, and other countries notorious for ineffective and sometimes lethal products.

Importing drugs from select European countries isn’t any safer. European Union parallel importation and trade laws provide an opportunity for the inadvertent entry of counterfeit drugs into legitimate supply chains and markets. Counterfeit products that get into the legitimate distribution chain of one E.U. member can contaminate the distribution chains of other countries. Since 2007, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Britain’s equivalent of the FDA, issued half a dozen drug recalls after counterfeit drugs infiltrated its legitimate supply chain as a result of parallel importation.

What is Parallel Importation?

In many less regulated markets import items are purchased in one country, at a lower price, then imported to a country in which they are legitimately available at a much higher price. The parallel importer can then sell the items for less than the high retail price, yet still make a profit while undercutting the legitimate market and exposing consumers to the risks of unregulated goods. When parallel trade includes pharmaceuticals, the risks can be fatal.

Parallel importers take advantage of the ‘gray market’ created by insufficient trade regulations and safety standards in various countries; intent on profit without the concern of consumer safety.

  • many consumer goods are subject to parallel trade, such as cars, electronics, food items & prescription medications
  • many nations that might be assumed to be ‘safe’ vendors of over-seas medicines don’t in fact have regulations against parallel trade that could protect the legitimate drug market from infiltration by counterfeit and substandard drugs.

In addition, the use of the Internet to purchase these drugs is a prescription for disaster. A recent study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has determined that as much as 96% of the online pharmacies offering drugs to Americans fail their safety standards for dispensing drugs.

Anytime consumers venture outside of the U.S.’s currently closed system, there is a very real risk to their health and welfare. The bottom-line is that drug importation programs, including state-government sponsored programs, encourage Americans to gamble with their health, especially vulnerable patient populations such as minorities, seniors, and fixed income patients.

Visit our Safe Savings section to learn how you can save money on your prescription drugs WITHOUT the serious safety risks that accompany purchasing imported medicines.