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
In this piece, which was published in The Deseret News on April 24, 2019, pharmacist and Utah State Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers raises serious concerns about importation as a strategy to lower drug prices:
“Anyone who truly understands how drugs are sold and distributed in the U.S. knows that there are very solid technical reasons that such importation is not viable. There are also serious concerns about drug safety, since the CHS cannot guarantee origin and purity on foreign-sourced drugs.”
In this piece, which was published on the ABC affiliate WJLA’s website on April 25, 2019, political analyst Boris Epshteyn explains that “this is a risky plan that will make it difficult to ensure that Floridians are receiving real and safe medicine.”
In this piece, which was published in the Inside Sources on April 22, 2019, Michael Graham reviews the case against drug importation: “As Scott Gottlieb said in 2016 before becoming President Trump’s FDA chief…’There are simply too many channels for fake drugs to enter any importation scheme to forgo some meaningful controls.’”
In this editorial, which was published in the Palm Beach Post on April 22, 2019, Michelle Flowers writes about Florida’s history of black market cancer treatments and the danger importation poses to patients. Flowers is president of the Oncology Managers of Florida.
In this editorial, which was published in The Santa Cruz Sentinel on April 18, 2019, business columnist Jeffrey Scharf argues that importation of prescription drugs is a plan that is too good to be true.
In this editorial by Terry Wilcox published in Inside Sources on April 18, 2019, Terry Wilcox, executive director of a patient advocacy organization advices federal and state representatives that allowing drug importation is not the right policy solution for America’s high prescription drug prices…
In this editorial, which was published in Colorado Politics on April 17, 2019, Don Bell, a 30-year veteran of Canadian law enforcement and border protection, warns that Canadian drug importation will open the U.S. to counterfeit medicine and exacerbate drug shortages in Canada.
The editorial board of the The Wall Street Journal published this editorial on April 15, 2019. In it, they write:
“The argument that drug importation threatens the integrity of the drug supply is often dismissed because pharmaceutical lobbyists make it. But keeping the drug supply free from contaminated or counterfeit products is not easy, and the World Health Organization has warned that 1 in 10 medical products in the developing world are phony. It isn’t clear who is liable if counterfeits are found in Florida, but you can bet it won’t be the politicians.”
In this editorial, which was published in The Gadsden Times on April 11, 2019, former FDA-OCI director George Karavetsos points out the real dangers of drug importation:
“Even today, Americans are being hurt and even dying because of counterfeit medications being imported into this country. Adding insult to injury, while some might point to Canada as being a safe source, counterfeit medications are transshipped through Canada from other countries in remote corners of the globe.”
This editorial by Dan Fucarino was published in Florida Politics on April 1, 2019. Mr Fucarino is the owner and a pharmacist at Carrollwood Compounding Center & Pharmacy.
“The monetary rewards of Canadian prescriptions are just not worth their safety risks,” he warns. “I urge Florida legislators to listen to health care experts on this issue rather than the understandable populist appeals and vote no on this dangerous legislation — and then get back to working on more productive ways to lower drug prices for Floridians. Thousands of Americans have been injured or killed by imported prescription drugs.”