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
This editorial by Guy Anthony was published in the Orlando Sentinel on June 12, 2019. Anthony, President and CEO of Black, Gifted & Whole, a nonprofit focused on issues surrounding black, queer men, warns that drug importation will open up “a market for dangerous, counterfeit drugs” that will make it harder for people to live with HIV and other complex illnesses.
This editorial by Nigel Rawson was published in The Hills Times on June 9, 2019. Dr. Rawson, president of Eastlake Research Group, a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, and an affiliated scholar with the Canadian Health Policy Institute, warns that Canada would run out of necessary medicine if U.S. states begin drug importation programs…
Former DEA agent Doug Herber wrote this editorial, which was published on May 31, 2019 in the White Mountain Independent. In it, he writes that drug importation will cause “patients [to] unwittingly purchase foreign counterfeit drugs disguised as low-level medication, unaware of the dangers, end up as an overdose statistic. “
This editorial by Holly Strom and Kenneth Schell published in U.S. News and World Report on May 28, 2019 warns states considering drug importation that doing so will not keep costs down and also poses a safety risk to patients…
In this editorial, which was published in The Bend Bulletin on May 21, 2019, Canadian law enforcement veteran Don Bell explains why Oregonians can not rely on Canada for safe prescription drugs.
Dozens of the most highly qualified law enforcement officials and former, senior staff at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration have conducted in-depth analyses that show Canadian drug importation will lead to a massive increase in counterfeit drugs entering the U.S.
In this editorial published in The Hill on May 12, 2019, Brooklyn Roberts, the director of the health and human services task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, discusses the risks of drug importation:
“The safety of our prescription drugs relies on a closed system where drugs can be traced to manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and patients. Opening that system to foreign drugs would allow the potential for dangerous and potentially deadly medicines to land in the hands of the American public.”
In this editorial published on April 30, 2019, former FBI Director Louis Freeh talks about the safety risks of drug importation: “There are hidden risks and costs associated with the scheme that have not been getting much attention which impact your health and Colorado law enforcement’s ability to keep us safe.”
In this editorial published on April 26, 2019, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, economist and President of American Action Forum, questions economic truths about drug importation:
“Drug reimportation has long been the fool’s gold of health policy, and the Florida bill is no different. It flunks a basic policy analysis. But most amazing, it is drafted to raise hope, but not actually help Floridians.”
In this piece published in the Washington Free Beacon on April 25, 2019, staff writer Charles Fain Lehman explores issues around Florida’s drug importation proposal. “Critics,” he notes, “fear that the actual realities of regulatory oversight—especially in the hand of an as-yet-unnamed private vendor—will simply be too challenging to manage responsibly.”