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New PSM ad reminds us that politics should never take precedence over safety when it comes to medicine.


We've all heard politicians promise cheaper drugs imported from other countries, but are they just saying that because we want to hear it? Do they have any expertise that suggests they know how to make such a system safe?

In this new ad from the Partnership for Safe Medicines we point out that foreign drug importation has been opposed by every U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner and Health and Human Services Secretary since 2000. We've made a handy infographic so you can see that whether it was a Republican or Democrat in the White House, heads of HHS and FDA have refused to sign off on the safety of foreign drug importation or have outright come out against it.

Here are some additional highlights:

Recently departed FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, appointed by President Trump, was asked about drug importation at an event at the National Press Club after he stepped down from his post. He spoke specifically about the irony of Florida attempting to conduct importation while being the state with the worst criminal history of counterfeit and black market medicine in the early 2000's. If you'd like to know more about this read Katherine Eban's book, Dangerous Doses.

Additionally, Donna Shalala, who was Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton but is now a member of Congress from Florida, penned a letter to the editor entitled "Good Luck With That Canadian Drug Import Bill." As someone who had the opportunity to study the issue and who found it too dangerous to approve, she is an expert on the topic. In part, she says:

Shalala said as HHS Secretary from 1993-2001: “I had enormous pressure on me to approve the importation of drugs into the United States. I said no. I said no to the President of the United States; I literally stood up to the White House and said ‘This is unsafe.'”

She also predicted Canada would not allow drug importations to Florida because Canada has more to lose than to gain with such an arrangement.

Canada, she said, negotiates drug prices nationally and those deals are based on Canada’s population. Adding in Florida would likely force the drug companies to demand a renegotiation of those Canadian national deals. Why would Canada want to risk that? Shalala challenged.

Back in 2017 when Commissioner Scott Gottlieb was just getting started in his tenure, four previous FDA commissioners appointed by both Republicans and Democrats, penned a letter to Congress explaining that importation was too difficult to make safe and unlikely to achieve the cost savings targeted.

[..] we believe that such importation represents a complex and risky approach—one that the evidence shows will not achieve the aim, and that is likely to harm patients and consumers and compromise the carefully constructed system that guards the safety of our nation’s medical products.

Of course Secretary Azar has also come out against this as a gimmick. You can see him address it in this clip from a speech:

Our message today is that you should be listening to healthcare experts about whether or not these ideas are safe. They actually know what they're talking about.

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