HHS's Federal Action Plan for Drug Importation, 2019
On July 31, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was working on potential avenues for the importation of foreign prescription drugs:
- Inviting states, wholesalers and pharmacists to submit proposals for pilot projects to import FDA-approved drugs from Canada, following guidance (still forthcoming) based on Section 804 of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
- Advising manufacturers of FDA-approved drugs about how to sell Americans versions of those drugs they have manufactured for foreign markets.
We believe the next step for HHS will be a Notice of Public Comment and additional development of regulations around importation programs.
What you can do now:
Because these programs have never sustainably saved money, and have endangered Americans every time they've been attempted, PSM is taking a number of actions to fight for patient safety. As we develop opportunities to speak up for safety, we'll put these here.
How should we evaluate this program?
Until July 2019, every head of Health and Human Services and the FDA since 2003 has refused to certify the safety of drug importation. Many—including Alex Azar, former FDA Commissioner and Trump appointee Scott Gottlieb, and his four immediate predecessors—have explicitly criticized these proposals as unsafe, unimplementable, and unlikely to save money.
HHS and FDA hasn't implemented its proposals yet so there's no way to evaluate whether they save money or keep patients safe. However previous programs in Maine, Illinois, and Minnesota all shut down because they didn't save the money promised. They all had safety lapses as well.
Official actions and statements
July 31, 2019:
- HHS Announces New Action Plan to Lay Foundation for Safe Importation of Certain Prescription Drugs
- Remarks on the Safe Importation of Certain Prescription Drugs
August 6, 2019:
- Letter from Chuck Grassley, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless about the challenges of FDA ensuring the safety and efficacy of imported drugs.
August 20, 2019:
- Florida submits a Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Concept Paper to HHS
HHS/FDA announces the Safe Importation Action Plan. July 31, 2019
Section 804 of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which outlines the method by which the Federal government may import medicine from Canada.
Background / resources
Just learning about foreign drug importation proposals? Start with some of these resources that outline the safety issues.
- Learn about failures to save money and keep patients safe in previous importations programs in Maine, Illinois, and Minnesota.
- Every head of Health and Human Services and the FDA since 2003 has refused to certify the safety of drug importation
- Importation has been opposed by dozens of groups representing law enforcement, patients, regulators, and healthcare professionals for nearly two decades.
- Drug importation endangers U.S. patients by breaking our closed, secure drug supply
- Common misconceptions about drug importation
Challenges to importation:
- Canadian patient groups, healthcare groups, boards of pharmacy and the Canadian government have not agreed to importation.
- A 2018 study by PSM board member and pharmaco-economist Dr. Marv Shepherd shows that if 20% of U.S. prescriptions were filled using Canadian prescription drug sources, the Canadian drug supply would be exhausted in 183 days.
- Dr. Kristina Acri's analysis shows that importation programs are unlikely to save money because of the costs of testing medication and treating patients who encounter counterfeits.
- Importation breaks Track and Trace systems which have been in-process since 2013, when Congress passed the Drug Supply Chain Security Act.
- State Drug Importation Laws Undermine the Process That Keeps Our Supply Chain Safe (July 11, 2019)
- In February 2017, Alan Coukell, the senior director of health programs for the Pew Charitable Trusts wrote Senator Bernie Sanders, to raise concerns about the effect of importation on the pharmaceutical supply chain security provisions.
- To learn more about Track and Trace, consult the FDA and RXTrace
- Everything (or almost everything) you need to know about importing drugs from Canada, July 31, 2019
- Canada wasn’t consulted on specifics of U.S. plan to import prescription drugs, July 31, 2019
- U.S. demand is threatening Canada's drug supply, groups warn feds, July 26, 2019
- Exclusive: Canada warns U.S. against drug import plans, citing shortage concerns, July 18, 2019
- HHS Secretary Alex Azar dismisses drug importation as a gimmick, May 14, 2018
Op-eds from the Experts
Ali Schroer wrote this editorial for the Washington Examiner on May 10, 2017.
Like millions of Americans, I take allergy medicine. A few years ago, my doctor urged me to bid farewell to my local pharmacy and instead buy my medication from an online Canadian drug store, where it was cheaper. What terrible advice! The website was counterfeit and sent me “medicine” that was anything but — causing me to get severely sick . . .
Ronald Piervincenzi, CEO of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention describes the dangerous flaws in any plan to open up U.S. borders to wholesale prescription medication importation from Canada.
On Tuesday, February 28, Allan Coukell, Senior Director of Health Programs for the Pew Charitable Trusts, wrote Senator Bernie Sanders to ask that he not undermine safety protections for medication with the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act.
In 2016, the American Medical Association reaffirmed its longheld opposition to drug importation through two policy statements. The first, “Prescription Drug Importation and Patient Safety D-100.983,” supports only the importation of FDA-approved medicines. The second, “Federal Regulation and Computerized Tracking of Pharmaceuticals During Shipping and Handling from Manufacture Until Ultimately Received by Patient D-100.985,” promised to actively oppose drug diversion, illegal importation, and drug counterfeiting.
In May 2004, anesthesiologist and American Medical Association trustee Rebecca J. Patchin, MD spoke before the Department of Health and Human Services Task Force on Drug Importation to express concern about the safety and reliability of imported drugs.