Allowing the purchase of imported drugs for Americans who can’t afford domestic products seems virtually inevitable.
Soaring prices by U.S. manufacturers are keeping too many from obtaining the medicines they need.
Back when Rouses Point was home to a major drug-manufacturing Pfizer plant, the North Country might have felt differently about allowing imported drugs to out-compete locals. But the truth is that too many Americans are sick and dying because they can’t afford the drugs that could make them healthy and keep them alive.
One reliable survey says that 45 million Americans last year did not fill prescriptions they needed because of the cost.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill in 2003 that would have allowed the purchase of imported drugs.
But it had a provision that the secretary of Health and Human Services had to guarantee that imported medications posed no additional risk to public safety and would save money. That negated the usefulness of the idea, since no HHS secretary has yet agreed to ensure that no imported prescription posed a threat to health.
Four former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration signed a letter to Congress arguing that drug importation remains too much of a risk to permit.
“It could lead to a host of unintended consequences and undesirable effects, including serious harm stemming from the use of adulterated, substandard or counterfeit drugs,” said Robert Califf, Margaret Hamburg, Mark McClellan and Andrew von Eschenbach, who headed the FDA at various times between 2002 through 2016.
But a recent proposal by Sanders and others drops that requirement. Instead, it sets up a regulatory system where Canadian pharmacies that purchase their supply from manufacturers inspected by the Food and Drug Administration would be licensed to sell to customers in the U.S. — individuals, drug wholesalers and pharmacies.
After two years, HHS could allow importation from other countries that meet standards comparable to those of the United States.
One example of a well-known and commonly used drug in America is the cholesterol-lowering Crestor. In the United States, one pill costs $6.82; in Canada, $2.58.
Why the disparity is a terrific question. Would allowing Americans to buy Canadian Crestor force lower prices here? Would it harm the manufacturers and, eventually, the American economy?
These may be questions with unknown answers, but with so many people unable to afford the drugs they need, they are worth investigating.
It is not only individuals needing the drugs who should be taken into account, but the federal government and its taxpayers, as well. After all, we all pay for Medicare and Medicaid, and they are paying exorbitantly high prices, too.
The first order of business is to get people the means they need to stay alive and ensure their health.
If allowing drugs to be bought across the border will do that, it must be pursued.
This editorial appeared in the Feb. 14 edition of The Plattsburgh Press-Republican.