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Drug Importation: Small Savings at a Large Cost

Supporters of drug importation like to cite the statistic that if the United States were to permit drug importation, it would reduce total drug spending by $40 billion over 10 years. This figure is from the 2004 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issue brief on drug importation.

Bryan A. Liang, MD, PhD, JD Liang (sm)

Supporters of drug importation like to cite the statistic that if the United States were to permit drug importation, it would reduce total drug spending by $40 billion over 10 years.  This figure is from the 2004 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issue brief on drug importation.

However, drug importation supporters often do not realize, or forget to mention, that this is only a savings of "about 1 percent."  The CBO actually concluded that any reduction in drug spending from importation would be small, and permitting importation from Canada alone would produce only a "negligible reduction" in drug spending.

This small savings results because the savings from any drug importation plan would not reflect the full difference in price between U.S. and foreign price differences.  Instead, a large portion of any given price difference goes to the wholesalers and other intermediaries importing and/or diverting drugs diverted from foreign markets—leaving little, if any, savings for consumers according to the CBO and independent academic analyses.

Prescription drugs from a safe, secure drug supply chain will always be more expensive that those from an unsecured supply chain riddled with multiple opportunities for criminals to slip counterfeit drugs into it.  A drug importation policy is only a politically expedient option that wastes the time and money that could be used to substantively address the difficult problem of access to medicines and the rising costs of healthcare for those who need it most.

Consequently, we should focus on policy solutions that are lasting, build on access to safe, regulated drugs, and do not put the risk of policy failure on the most vulnerable groups-minorities, uninsured, seniors, and others on fixed incomes. 

For more information on the threat of counterfeit drugs and their link to drug importation, please visit www.safemedicines.org. 

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