This editorial by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 10, 2022. Ros-Lehtinen represented Florida’s 27th congressional district in Congress from 1989 to 2019.
Drug Importation Will Harm Florida’s Most Vulnerable
Too many of us have felt the pinch of high prescription drug prices. Politicians have seized upon this vulnerability with claims of simple solutions, like allowing for the importation of medicines from Canada, where the government sets the cost of drugs. But solutions that seem too good to be true usually are. Drug importation is not only a false promise, but it’s one that could do serious harm to our communities. It would open the door to substances that, instead of making us better, will make us sicker, or even end our lives. And this danger would be exaggerated in racial and ethnic minority communities.
In the words of the Drug Enforcement Administration: “Criminal drug networks are flooding the U.S. with deadly fake pills … counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available, often contain fentanyl or methamphetamine, and can be deadly.” Around the world right now, there is a counterfeit medicine problem that’s causing over one million deaths each year. Some would call it a crisis and our country is not exempt from it. We have seen too many stories of victims who thought they were taking legitimate prescription medications, only to lose their lives because the pills were laced with lethal doses of fentanyl. We have learned of cancer patients who believed they were taking medications to save their lives, later finding out the medicines were adulterated and lacking their essential active ingredients.
So, what does all of this have to do with importing drugs from a friendly nation like Canada? The simple, inarguable fact is that, once we open up our drug supply, we can no longer ensure the safety of the products in it.
The Canadian government has made it abundantly clear it is opposed to sharing its prescription drug supply with U.S. citizens. Canada doesn’t have sufficient drug manufacturing capabilities. They import only what their citizens need, and there often isn’t enough. Drug shortages are not uncommon for our neighbor to the north and, thus, Canadian officials have enacted policies banning official wholesalers from shipping medicines that are in short supply over the border.
That would leave, as the only option, turning to less reliable suppliers. There is an abundance of online “Canadian pharmacies” more than willing to send medicines to customers in the United States. The problem is that very few can be trusted with what goes in our medicine cabinets and our bodies. According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, there are more than 11,000 prescription drug sellers on the internet and over 96 percent of them are not in compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and pharmacy practice standards.
This is a particularly dangerous risk for racial and ethnic minorities, who are up to twice as likely to have major chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
If lawmakers want to get serious about lowering drug costs — and we must — the answer is not to compromise the health and safety of our constituents with cheap foreign drugs that haven’t been subject to stringent Food and Drug Administration protocols. We need to look at ways to reduce out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy counter and take a hard look at the middlemen, like pharmacy benefit managers, who are profiting immensely using unfair tactics.
If politicians tell us that they have a quick and easy answer to a very complicated problem, we are right to be skeptical. In this case, our health is at stake, so we must demand more.