John McCain has always supported drug importation “from Canada.” And he has been wrong every time.
He has resurrected his effort (via Amendment SA 2884) and cites the Turing Pharmaceuticals example, “"Don't you feel when people are paying $750 for a pill that maybe they ought to be able to go to Canada and buy one that's reasonably [priced]?”
Note to Senator McCain –the Turing product is an off-patent drug but there isn’t any generic competition. And that’s important because generic drugs are less expensive in the US than in Canada. The way to drive down the prices of single-manufacturer off-patent drugs isn’t to import foreign price controls -- it’s to inject healthy competition into the equation by making it worthwhile for multiple manufacturers to offer products like Turing’s infamous Daraprim.
As to the broader arguments against drug importation – here we go again.
Importing drugs from Canada is exceedingly dangerous for a number of reasons. For starters, many Internet pharmacies based up north are stocked with drugs from the European Union. And while many wouldn’t hesitate to take medicines purchased from countries like France and Great Britain, there’s plenty of risk involved.
The EU currently operates under a system of “parallel trade,” which allows products to be freely imported between member countries. This means that any drugs exported from the U.K. to Canada could have originated in an EU country with significantly less rigorous safety regulations like Greece, Portugal, Latvia or Malta.
Just last year, EU officials seized over 34 million fake pills in just two months. And in May, Irish drug enforcers confiscated over 1.7 million pounds of counterfeit and illegal drug packages. So if American customers start buying drugs over the Internet from Canadian pharmacies, they could easily wind up with tainted medicines of unknown European origin.
It’s also important to note that drugs from anywhere in Europe aren’t even legal for sale in Canada. So when politicians say we can get “the same drugs” that Canadians get, they’re just plain wrong.
Even more worrisome is outright fraud — many “Canadian” pharmacies are actually headquartered somewhere else.
A 2005 investigation by the Food and Drug Administration looked at 4,000 drug shipments coming into the U.S. Almost half of them claimed to be from Canada. Of those, a full 85 percent were actually from countries such as India, Vanuatu and Costa Rica.
As part of another investigation, FDA officials bought three popular drugs from two Internet pharmacies claiming to be “located in, and operated out of, Canada.” Both websites had Canadian flags on their websites. Yet neither the pharmacies nor the drugs were actually from Canada.
As an FDA official told Congress, “We determined there is no evidence that the dispensers of the drugs or the drugs themselves are Canadian. The registrants, technical contacts, and billing contacts for both web sites have addresses in China. The reordering website for both purchases and its registrant, technical contact, and billing contact have addresses in Belize. The drugs were shipped from Texas, with a customer service and return address in Florida.” And in laboratory analysis, every pill failed basic purity and potency tests.
The on-the-ground reality of state and local importation schemes has been dismal and politically embarrassing. Remember Illinois’ high profile “I-Save-RX” program? Over 19 months, only 3,689 Illinois residents used the program—that’s .02 percent of the population.
And what of Minnesota’s RxConnect? According to its latest statistics, Minnesota RxConnect fills about 138 prescriptions a month. That’s in a state with a population of 5,167,101.
Remember Springfield, Massachusetts and “the New Boston Tea Party?” Well, the city of Springfield has been out of the “drugs from Canada business” since August 2006.
And speaking of tea parties, according to a story in the Boston Globe, “Four years after Mayor Thomas M. Menino bucked federal regulators and made Boston the biggest city in the nation to offer low-cost Canadian prescription drugs to employees and retirees, the program has fizzled, never having attracted more than a few dozen participants.”
The Canadian supplier for the program was Winnipeg-based Total Care Pharmacy. When Total Care decided to end its relationship with the city, only 16 Boston retirees were still participating.
Programs like this wouldn’t do any better on a national basis. A study by the non-partisan federal Congressional Budget Office showed that importation would reduce our nation’s spending on prescription medicines a whopping 0.1 percent—and that’s not including the tens of millions of dollars the FDA would need to oversee drug safety for the dozen or so nations generally involved in foreign drug importation schemes.
Calling foreign drug importation “re-importation” is a clever way to sell the idea to the American people. But the term simply doesn’t fit with the facts. In reality, in addition to importing foreign price controls, Americans would end up jeopardizing their health by purchasing unsafe drugs while not saving money.
McCain acknowledged that similar efforts to legislate drug importation had fallen short many times in the past, but said, "sooner or later, even pigs fly.
Think again, Senator McCain.