Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opinion: Lifting barriers on drug importation could have harmful consequences


Washington is moving quickly – a true rarity – toward bipartisan legislation on drug pricing. While President Donald Trump works to keep the promises he made on the campaign trail to fight for everyday Americans at the pharmacy counter, it can be tempting to keep all sorts of policy options on the negotiating table. But not all policy ideas are made equal and quite frankly, many proposals coming from the far left are downright dangerous, showing a blatant disregard for our nation’s safety.

Let’s nail down on one such proposal unconscionably gaining steam in Congress: drug importation.

Proponents like Democratic Socialist and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders often tout drug importation as a holy grail for health care policy. Drugs are cheap in Canada, they argue, so why not bring them into the United States? As always, this kind wishful thinking waves away the stark realities that come with serious policy making.

The reason the United States puts such strict barriers on the importation of drugs into our country is for the safety of patients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) puts both new and existing treatments through a rigorous review process in order to preserve the U.S. market’s sterling record of prescription drug safety. If Congress were to enact legislation that undermines these food and drug safeguards, harmful consequences will inevitably ensue.

The FDA has consistently maintained that inspectors cannot adequately vet drugs that come from foreign countries. Canadian regulators say roughly the same, unequivocally holding that they have zero responsibility for ensuring the safety and efficacy of prescription medications imported into the United States even if they pass through Canada. With no one able to enforce or ensure protections, patients are put at risk.

The issue at hand is not so much the safety of Canadian drugs but the dangers of the global drug trade. Often, pharmacies that claim to be “Canadian” are anything but. For online prescription drug purchases, it’s estimated that just 15 percent actually originate in Canada, with many coming from far-flung countries like China, Iran and Turkey.

You don’t have to be a policy wonk to see the issue here. Many of these countries simply do not have the same standards as the United States when it comes to prescription medications. These countries also have long histories of trafficking in both counterfeit prescription medications and harmful illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Opening our prescription drug market to these threats not only puts patients at risks but potentially rewards the very nefarious actors driving the opioid crisis currently ravaging Missouri and the country at large. And it would all be for negligible savings, estimated at less than 1 percent.

The willingness on the part of the Trump administration and Republican members of Congress to look outside conventional wisdom when it comes to addressing patient costs at the pharmacy counter is completely understandable and commendable. This is an issue that hits close to home for many people. Republicans should not, however, sacrifice their commitment to the safety and security of the American people for a raw deal with nothing but the veneer of overly-sanctified “bipartisanship.”

We have to draw the line in our negotiating position with the far left. Certainly, supporting policy that benefits drug cartels, counterfeiters, criminals and bad actors is a line we’re not willing to cross.