It would be easy enough to let Senator David Vitter (R, LA) et al. claim victory and go home claiming that we have dodged a public health bullet.
But it would be wrong.
Codifying the “personal exemption rule” comes with a container-full of unintended consequences.
It’s important to get one thing out of the way right away. If you walk into a pharmacy in Windsor, Ontario and have your prescription filled by a real pharmacist — the drugs you receive will be both safe and effective. That being said, there are problems.
A Canadian pharmacy cannot fill a prescription written by an American physician unless it is co-signed by a Canadian doctor. Senator Vitter may see this as an added safe-guard — but he would be mistaken.
Most Canadian provinces (including Ontario and Quebec where most of the cross-border drug trafficking takes place) have a provision called the “Touch Law.” An American prescription cannot be co-signed by a Canadian doctor unless that doctor actually examines (“touches”) the patient. But this rarely happens. Most Canadian pharmacies situated near the American border employ physicians who do nothing more than blithely sign their names without even bothering to see what the prescriptions are for or who they are for.
Bad medicine? You bet — and ripe for abuse. Consider this — last year a doctor in Toronto was indicted for co-signing 24,212 prescriptions for American patients he had never seen — at $10 a pop.
Nice work if you can get it.
Mr. Vitter’s amendment, already passed by both House and Senate, would let Americans carry up to a 90-day supply of medication back to the U.S. from Canada without being stopped by Customs agents — codifying this YOYO (“You’re On Your Own”) policy.
So what’s the problem? It very clearly does not allow importation via the Internet or even tacitly approve any of the failed bone-headed schemes introduced by the likes of Pandering Tim Pawlenty or Wrong-Way Rod Blagojevich.
In fact, the truth of the matter is that the 90-day supply “personal exemption” has been the de facto rule since, well, forever.
So why worry about it? Why not just let Senator Vitter get away with what is really nothing more than a Big Shill? Two reasons.
First — it’s already a proven fact that terrorists are playing in this game and this legislation shines a bright light on how they can further exploit a weakened chain of pharmaceutical custody and, second, it sends the dangerous message that full-blown global importation is okay — and the next logical step.
And that you can take that directly from the horse’s mouth.
According to Senator Vitter, this agreement “proves that we have significant majorities in favor of reimporting.” And, “This really breaks the dam, and it shows that it’s only a matter of time before we pass a full-blown reimportation bill.”
All this at the same time the European Union is moving in the opposite direction, trying to design ways to limit cross-border pharmaceutical shipments because of increased safety concerns and a growing problem of counterfeiting.
Senator Vitter’s amendment is more than just a Big Shill; it’s a dangerous and slippery slope.