Rx Importation Controversy Heats Up in Washington

Author: Ken Rankin

The debate over whether US patients should be allowed to bypass pharmacies in this country and reimport prescription drugs from Canada spilled over into Congress, as Sen Byron Dorgan (D, ND) introduced new legislation authorizing Americans to do just that.

Under his "Pharmaceutical Market Access Act," individual consumers would be permitted to purchase nonnarcotic medications from foreign sources as long as the drugs and the facilities where they were manufactured are approved by the FDA.

In response to concerns raised by the FDA and pharmacy groups about the risk of counterfeit pharmaceuticals entering the US market from abroad, the legislation would further require that imported Rx drugs be packaged and shipped using "counterfeitresisant technologies approved by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, similar to the technologies used to secure US currency."

In urging fast action on the legislation, Dorgan told Congress that "Americans unjustly pay up to 1000% more to fill their prescriptions than consumers in other countries." Legislation to create "open pharmaceutical markets could save American consumers at least $635 billion each year."

Dorgan and a bipartisan group of senators advanced the bill just 1 day after Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced plans to create a new federal task force to undertake a comprehensive study of the health, safety, and economic issues associated with prescription drug reimportation. This task force, established in response to a directive from Congress, will be responsible for determining "the potential short- and long-term impacts on drug prices and prices for consumers associated with importing drugs from Canada and other countries."