The Washington Examiner recently ran an op-ed by Charlie Cichon, the Executive Director of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. In it he explained how the opioid crisis will only be made worse if the U.S. allows drug importation.
The U.S is in the midst of an opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control found that between 2000 and 2015, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses; 91 Americans die every day because of opioids. As of 2014, they determined that about 2 million Americans were dependent on prescription opioids and heroin.
Cichon states that prescription opioids serve a legitimate purpose, enabling people to manage their severe pain. However, there was also been a notable increase in the abuse of pain medications. Medications purchased from legitimate U.S. pharmacies are safe, but according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, a large quantity of the opioids being consumed and abused are illegally procured and produced in other countries as close as Mexico and as far away as Asia. These counterfeit medicines kill hundreds of Americans every year.
Allowing drug importation would result in more counterfeit medicines pouring into our country, warns Cichon. He stated that “Counterfeit and illegal medicines already kill Americans by the hundreds each year. Existing penalties are not enough to stop them, and that’s even before we open the door to importation. The existing problem of counterfeits laced with substances like fentanyl (a powerful and widely abused synthetic opioid) could be scaled up one hundred-fold if we let down our guard.”
Cichon warns that if drug importation is allowed, it would be completely infeasible for U.S. agencies to be able to regulate drugs being manufactured outside of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s purview. Any online pharmacy can sell whatever they want and their customers will never truly know what they were getting. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy examined 11,299 online pharmacies in 2016 and found that 10,823 of them, 95.8%, were for various reasons untrustworthy. Americans believe they are purchasing a drug from a country they think of as safe, but the pills were actually manufactured somewhere else, in unknown conditions and contain unknown substances.
Every day, more than 1,000 people are seen in emergency rooms in the U.S. because of opioid overdosed and many of those caused by illicitly produced drugs. Making sure that less, not more, of these substances are on our streets is the only way to slow down the opioid crisis. Cichon concludes that allowing drug importation will not solve the prescription drug crisis in the U.S. and will only make the opioid crisis worse.