Azar’s Safe Importation Action Plan: Real or Ploy?

Americans spend more money buying their prescription medications than anyone else in the world. The average cost for prescription medication is around $1,200 a year per person. While Americans tend to take a lot of pills, the one thing that sets them apart from other countries is high prices. The White House is aware of the strain that prescriptions place on U.S. households, which is why the government is considering allowing drugs to be imported from other countries. They’re looking for a wholesale option.


Two Importation Routes


Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services Secretary, said, “Access to affordable prescription drugs can be a matter of life or death for American patients.” He went on to say, “We all know how unfair it is that other countries are paying lower prices for the same drugs, and we’re taking action.”


According to Azar, officials have two options for creating a path to importing drugs. The first option involves states, pharmacies and drug distributors submitting importation proposals. Regulators want ideas from those who work in the industry. With this route, drugs could only come from Canada, and they would be limited to certain ones. For instance, injectables and biologics would be disqualified. Azar stated that the medication landscape has changed, and there are now opportunities for safe connections between different drug supply lines. These changes are why the federal government is open to importing drugs.


The second route is to write new FDA guidelines that would offer suggestions to those who produce FDA-approved drugs and would be interested in importing U.S. versions of the ones that are available in other countries. With this route, drug manufacturers would follow a new National Drug Code, which may allow manufacturers to offer prescription medications to American consumers at reduced prices. The benefit of the second route is that medications like insulin in addition to drugs for cancer treatments, heart disease and arthritis could become more affordable.


According to FDA officials, the agency has the resources to make importing drugs possible. Officials acknowledge that there are hurdles to enacting it. These include determining how to set up the supply chain, how to accurately track and trace the drugs, how to relabel them and the best way to maintain supply chain integrity. While FDA officials and Azar are making drug importation seem like an easy solution, others in the industry disagree.


What Big Pharma Has to Say


Stephen J. Ubl, the CEO and president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America organization, said, “The administration’s importation scheme is far too dangerous for American patients.” What it comes down to is safety. There just isn’t a way to make sure that drugs coming into the country from an outside source are safe. Allowing drugs to be imported into the country could make the opioid crisis worse. It could also endanger public safety. Medications that are passing through Canada could have come from anywhere throughout the world, which means that they may not have gone through the FDA’s strict review process.


Industry insiders are stating that giving Americans access to more affordable drugs won’t help when the president is pushing through giveaways to Big Pharma since this only increases the cost of drugs in Canada and keeps the prices high in the U.S. For instance, there are stipulations in the new NAFTA agreement that would permit drug manufacturers to block competition from generic drug developers. These would also require participants to guarantee 10 years of patent exclusivity.


Alarm Bells Ring in Canada


Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are both saying that the best way for Americans to be able to afford their prescriptions is to buy them from Canada. This is alarming Canadians. Jacalyn Duffin, a professor emerita with Queen’s University and medical historian, said, “Trump should be finding out why Americans have to pay more than Canadians to buy the same drugs from multinational companies.”


To keep costs down in Canada, the government has an arrangement with pharmaceutical companies. The companies sell drugs to Canada at fixed prices with a guaranteed supply. In return, the country agrees to not sell them to other countries. This arrangement means that provincial governments in Canada would have little interest in making a deal with America since they wouldn’t have enough medications for their own citizens.


Trump’s importation action plan is flawed in several ways. One issue is that the cost of generic drugs in Canada is the same as they are in the United States. Also, encouraging Americans to buy cheap drug imports could trigger the growth of illegal pharmacies online since it’s easy for them to misrepresent themselves as legitimate Canadian pharmacies. Right now, around 600 new illegitimate pharmacy sites appear online each month. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising to protect Canada’s drug supply from the U.S.


Why are Drugs so Expensive in the U.S.?


U.S. citizens often complain about the high cost of healthcare in the country. Statistics show that the cost of prescription drugs are higher than ever. This is a major problem within the country’s current healthcare system. Americans pay an estimated two to six times more for the same medications as people in other countries.


One reason for the cost differences is that the United States government chooses not to regulate the price of medication. This means that drug companies can basically set whatever price that the market will bear. On the other hand, Canada sets a maximum price for drugs that are patented based on a cost comparison of seven industrialized countries.


According to the drug industry, Americans pay more due to the drug development process. Along with this, the U.S. healthcare system doesn’t permit price negotiations. Medicare is the biggest prescription drug provider in America, but the law states that it cannot negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies directly. If the federal government decided to change this, then citizens would likely pay less for their medications. The single payer system that most developed countries use makes it possible for them to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, keeping costs down.


The FDA has no regulatory power over Big Pharma. Other countries are able to look into the effectiveness of prescription drugs. They can use this information to make sure that drug companies are setting reasonable prices based on how well a medication works. This is something else that keeps prices in check in other parts of the world.


A Better Option


Americans already have a way to decrease their prescription drug costs, but many of them are unaware of the option. You can decrease your prescription drug costs by personally importing medications instead of buying them wholesale from a pharmacy. There are legitimate online Canadian drug referral services available, ones that charge a fraction of the amount charged by American drug companies.


Planet Drugs Direct allows Americans to import medications like Prozac and Onglyza. According to one consumer, he and his wife would pay $660 a month for Prozac from a U.S. pharmacy while Planet Drugs Direct delivers a three-month supply to them for around $170. The cost difference shows how greedy Big Pharma has become. Online suppliers can help people stay in their homes instead of using all of their income to stay alive.


About Importing Drugs for Personal Use


In many cases, the United States considers it illegal for citizens to import drugs into the country for personal use. The reason for this is because medication from other countries may not be approved by the FDA. For instance, if Health Canada, the equivalent of the FDA in Canada, has approved a drug that the FDA has not okayed, then the medication is not one that is approved to use in the U.S. This means that it would be illegal to import it. The FDA cannot confirm the effectiveness and safety of drugs that it hasn’t approved.


However, the FDA does have a few policies regarding the personal importation of drugs that it has not approved. A few examples of these exceptions include:


  • The medication is developed for a serious condition and treatment is not available in the U.S.
  • There is no promotion or commercialization of the medication to American residents.
  • The person importing the drug confirms that it is for personal use and provides the contact information of the medical professional over the treatment.


In most cases, you won’t be able to import more than a three-month supply of the medication.


Until Things Change


As long as the U.S. government continues to cater to Big Pharma, prescription medication will remain unaffordable for many Americans. You can turn to reputable companies like Planet Drugs Direct until things change. Without our service, many ill people would go without the care they need or die unnecessarily. If you need medication, check into personally importing your drugs. Just be sure to do it legally and safely.