The only thing that dies harder than a bad idea is a bad idea with political resonance.
And one of the down sides of term-limited state legislators is that bad ideas keep getting resurrected. Case in point: state-sponsored schemes for drug importation.
As a public service to these newly elected members, a brief primer on why drug importation is a bad idea There are four basic reasons:
(1) It doesn’t save money.
(2) The drugs being sent to U.S. customers from Canadian Internet pharmacies are not “the same drugs Canadians get.”
(3) The state experience has been dismal and politically embarrassing.
(4) National Security concerns.
Let’s look at each of these four items.
(1) It won’t save any money. Let’s not forget the non-partisan CBO study that showed that such policy would reduce our nation’s spending on prescription medicines a whopping 0.1% -- and that’s not including the millions of dollars the FDA would need to set up a monitoring system.
(2) The drugs being sent to U.S. customers from Canadian internet pharmacies are not “the same drugs Canadians get.” That bit of rhetoric is just plain wrong. In fact, drugs sold to Americans by Canadian Internet pharmacies aren’t even legal for sale in Canada. This isn’t about the quality of Canadian drug regulation. Canadian Internet pharmacies – by their own admission – are sourcing the drugs they're sending to the United States from outside of Canada. And while they may say their drugs come from Great Britain, let’s not conveniently forget that 20% of all the medicines sold in the UK are parallel imported from other nations in the EU – like Spain, Greece, Portugal, and Lithuania.
And the important political point here is that when Americans are asked if they want drugs from nations other than Canada – the answer is a resounding “no thank you.”
(3) The state experience has been dismal and politically embarrassing. Remember Illinois’ high profile “I-Save-RX”program? Over 19 months of operation, a grand total of 3,689 Illinois residents used the program -- which equals approximately .02% of the population.
And what of Minnesota’s RxConnect program? According to its latest statistics, Minnesota RxConnect fills about 138 prescriptions a month. That's for the whole state. Minnesota population: 5,167,101.
That'ss not a surprise considering that Minnesota, state officials observed Canadian Internet pharmacies engaging in dangerous practices.
One pharmacy had its pharmacists check 100 new prescriptions or 300 refill prescriptions per hour, a volume so high that there is no way to assure safety.
One pharmacy failed to label its products and several others failed to send any patient drug information to patients receiving prescription drugs.
Drugs requiring refrigeration were being shipped un-refrigerated with no evidence that the products would remain stable.
One pharmacy had no policy in place for drug recalls. Representatives of the pharmacy allegedly said that the patient could contact the pharmacy about a recall "if they wished."
The FDA launched an investigation, confiscating thousands of drug shipments headed for the United States. Some of them were headed for Minnesotans who ordered them over the state's Web site.
When opened, nearly half claimed to be of Canadian origin, but "85 percent of them were from 27 other countries including Iran, Ecuador and China." And 30 of them were counterfeit.
One Minnesota resident discovered that one of his "Canadian" drugs came from Greece, and another came from Vanuatu, a small island in the South Pacific. "I never heard of the place," he said.
Wisconsin also has an importation program, modeled on the one in Minnesota. It too hawks its promise and hides its dangers. All of the legalese buries the fact that the state doesn't accept any responsibility for the safety or effectiveness of any medicines bought on the state's Web site.
The state won't even guarantee that the drugs ordered are what the customer will receive. Not only that, but the state also says that it will not accept any legal responsibility or liability should any of the drugs cause a problem.
And remember Springfield, MA and “the New Boston Tea Party?” Well the city of Springfield is now out of the drugs from Canada business.
(4) National Security concerns. According to a report from the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, a global terrorist ring with ties to Hezbollah, is importing counterfeit drugs into America by way of Canada. They are doing so for profit today - but could just as easily do so for more nefarious and deadly purposes. And legalizing importation would only facilitate such actions.
And then there are those politically pesky safety issues.
Adding fuel to the reality is a new by the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines. The title says it all, “The Counterfeiting Superhighway.”
The report reveals the scope of the unregulated trade of fake pharmaceuticals. Through extensive research and examination of over 100 online pharmacies and over 30 commonly purchased prescription-only medicines, the report makes one thing very clear – we’re not winning the battle.
Key findings from this report
* 62% of medicines purchased online are fake or substandard (including medicines indicated to treat serious conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, neurological disorders, and mental health conditions).
* 95.6% of online pharmacies researched are operating illegally.
* 94% of websites do not have a named, verifiable pharmacist.
* Over 90% of websites supply prescription-only medicines without a prescription.
* 78.8 of websites violate intellectual property.
My favorite anecdote is the report’s example of an Internet pharmacy whose products came wrapped in pages from the Mumbai Daily News. The most frightening fact, though, is most of the fake medicines “were delivered in seemingly authentic boxes, accompanied by patient information leaflets in good condition and ostensibly trustworthy blister packs.”
Novice state legislators considering drug importation should refer to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations:
"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."