Drug importation endangers U.S. patients by breaking our closed, secure drug supply
Who Sells Counterfeit Medicines?
Drug traffickers all over the world sell unreliable, and sometimes toxic, look-alike products to patients who suffer because their illlnesses go untreated, or because they are poisoned. In some parts of the world as much as 30% of the drugs on the market are fake. The cost of this trade is unimaginable: fake drugs cost 100,000 lives a year in Africa alone.
Are There Counterfeit Prescription Drugs in the U.S.?
- Every state in the country has had a counterfeit drug incident since 2010.
- As of April 2018, authorities in 43 states have found counterfeit prescription pills made with deadly fentanyl or fentanyl analogues in circulation.
- In 2012, the FDA discovered imported cancer treatments that contained no active ingredient in the American drug supply.
- Between 2012 and 2016, the FDA warned more than 3,000 medical practices to stop buying medicine from unlicensed foreign pharmacies.
How Can Drugs From Canada and Europe Be Dangerous?
Drug importation supporters believe that drugs purchased from “safe” countries such as Canada and Britain are made for residents of those countries, and are subject to strict regulations and oversight.
This is not true.
Imported prescription drugs fall outside of regulation in other countries. The drugs that Canadian online pharmacies sell Americans, for example, are not the same as the ones Canadians take. They are usually from other countries. Canada has been explicit that "Health Canada does not assure that products being sold to U.S. citizens are safe, effective, and of high quality, and does not intend to do so in the future.”
Canadians Think That Americans Ordering Medication From Canada Is A Bad Idea.
The list of issues with Americans ordering from the Canadian drug supply is legion.
First, it's unlikely we can actually get medicines out of their domestic drug supply. Canada does not prosecute people who put up fake Canadian web pharmacies so those sites abound online. But if we actually did try to get Canadian domestic drug supply, it's not even legal for their pharmacists to dispense to us. Three different Canadian pharmacy regulators recently said this is not allowed under Canadian licensing.
Canada doesn't have enough medicine supply to start filling our prescriptions. PSM's board member Marv Shepherd researched this and estimated that if 20% of U.S. residents started purchasing their medications from the Canadian drug supply, they would strip Canada's name brand drug supply in 201 days.
These same concerns were also brought up in recent letters from Canadian patient groups as well as pharmacy regulators from the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador. Even the association that represents pharmacy boards all across Canada weighed in on the fact that this is illegal.
Are these drugs really hurting people? Yes.
- As of September, 2017, people in 16 states have died because they accidentally took counterfeit prescription painkillers or fake Xanax.
- Counterfeit medicines have reached patients like Betty Hunter, who died of lung cancer without knowing that her physician had treated her with illegally imported drugs.
- The Partnership collects examples of patients harmed by these drugs on our Counterfeit Drug Victims page.
Can't We Stop These Killers?
Stopping the counterfeit medicine trade is difficult and time-intensive. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Postal Service inspectors need more staff and better tracking technology to catch illegitimate medicines being imported into the country. Forensic laboratories need the time and money to test medicines and identify the cause of unexpected deaths Law enforcement needs to be able to investigate drug smugglers working in our country and across borders–and then they have to extradite foreign distributors if they want to prosecute them. This has proven difficult.
- The FDA discovered that CanadaDrugs.com had sold fake Avastin to American oncologists in 2012. The Department of Justice indicted six Canadians for selling the medicine in 2014. For over three years, the United States attempted to extradite the ringleaders from Canada. In 2018 they gave up and allowed them to plea bargain their case in exchange for a fine and probation. No jail time was served by any of the indicted individuals. The CEO did receive five years probation, but he was not required to relinquish his pharmacist's license.
- When the U.S. prosecuted RxNorth founder Andrew Strempler for falsely claiming that the unregulated prescription medicines he sold Americans met U.S. safety standards, they had to persuade Panama to deport him, and then arrest him in the Miami airport during a flight layover.
How Can We Protect Americans?
Reject Dangerous Importation Proposals.
- Former FBI Director Louis Freeh published a 2017 report finding that drug importation would overwhelm the safety mechanisms already in place to protect Americans. Importation, he found, would "lead to an increased flow of counterfeit and other potentially dangerous products across U.S. borders, worsen the opioid crisis, and cause unnecessary strain on law enforcement and already-overburdened government regulators."
- Every head of Health and Human Services and the FDA has refused to certify the safety of drug importation.
- Since 2000, organizations concerned about patient safety and the integrity of our medicine supply have penned countless statements pointing out the dangers of drug importation.
Only Buy Drugs from Licensed U.S. Pharmacies.
PSM maintains resources to educate patients about the risks of importation. Americans can save money safely by taking generic drugs when appropriate, comparing prices among licensed U.S. pharmacies, and pursuing patient assistance programs.