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Drug Importation – It Was a Bad Idea and Still is a Bad Idea

I railed about drug importation as a way to lower drug costs in a previous post (here) for numerous reasons.  For instance, how can you protect against counterfeit drugs, how do you know how the products are stored and where they have been in the supply chain, and how are you assured of drug product quality?  The issue has been bandied about by the current administration with recent flip-flops (all of a sudden, it is a brilliant idea) by the HHS secretary and others reaching for the magic bullet to lower drug costs, even though some of the drugs the administration wants to target are not supposed to be legally imported.

Every day the news channels are awash with articles about prescription drug costs.  The FDA is trying to approve more generic drugs to combat rising costs; as the Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM) will tell you, generics represent 90% of the prescriptions filled but only account for 22% of the drug spend.  Twenty-one biosimilar products have been approved but only a handful have been launched.  Biologics are, of course, a big-ticket item in terms of drug spend, yet patent issues have tied up many approved biosimilars waiting for litigation to be settled before the firms chance going to market.

And now the importation chant has focused on brand name drugs and Canada, where the prices are lower.  The states and the federal government see this as a way to ease the prices of certain high-cost brand‑name drug products by raiding the Canadian market.  What do the Canadians think?  Not sure anyone knows for sure but, in a free-market economy, it might not take long for them to increase drug prices when they experience drug shortages as Americans flock over the border or use online pharmacies at risk to purchase cheaper Canadian brand-name drugs.

What will American corporations do as their drugs sit on the shelf approaching expiration?  Will they lower prices?  Not sure, but, in my opinion, this is a play out of a playbook from a shell game operator.  Watch the cups move and find the walnut.  Importation of drugs from foreign countries does not fix the problem, it just places patients at risk and kicks the real problem down the road.

Will the Canadians realize the downside of this folly and take action to protect its citizens or will the bull in the china shop cause chaos until the last plate is broken and both the U.S. and Canadian governments need to pick up the pieces and start all over again?  A bad idea is a bad idea and you can’t paint it any other way.