Surgeon General Report Blasts Rx Drug Importing Practices

MARCH 01, 2005
Ken Rankin

US Surgeon General Richard Carmona released the results of a new study that raises significant concerns about the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

The report, prepared by Carmona's Health and Human Services (HHS) Task Force on Drug Importation, concludes that "there are significant risks associated with the way individuals are currently importing drugs"into the United States, and that "legalized importation will likely adversely affect the future development of drugs for American consumers."

The task force raised particular concerns about the safety of medicines imported outside the current pharmacy- based US drug distribution system.

"While wholesalers and pharmacists purchase, transport, and dispense imported drugs within our regulatory framework, American consumers making individual purchases from foreign sources outside our regulatory system?face safety hazards that would be extraordinarily difficult to effectively address and prevent,"the report warned.

Carmona's task force also concluded that legalized importation of prescription medications could create significant new liability problems for pharmacists and consumers in this country.

"Consumers harmed by imported drugs may not have legal recourse against foreign pharmacies, distributors, or other suppliers,"the report warned. "Entities in the pharmaceutical supply chain may take actions to protect themselves from liability that could ultimately raise the cost of drugs."

The HHS task force conclusions were echoed by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), which warned that "drugs purchased abroad are not subject to the same strict controls as those drugs purchased in a US pharmacy."

"The dangers of drug importation highlight the valuable role pharmacists play every day in keeping their patients and customers safe,"NACDS President Craig L. Fuller said in response to the report. "Local pharmacists work with patients face-to-face to ensure that they receive the right medicines at the right dosage, as intended by their doctors, "but "the protections of a local pharmacist are lost and patients put themselves unnecessarily at risk when they import drugs."

Mr. Rankin is a freelance medical writer.