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Local, Canadian pharmacists say importing drugs raises safety, supply concerns

August 01, 2019 07:22 PM

We all want to pay less for our prescriptions, but what if a lower price meant lower safety standards?

That's what New York State Assemblyman and Pharmacist John McDonald said the federal government is proposing. Canadian pharmaceutical experts agree it's a bad idea.

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The move could raise prices and create a shortage for Canadian customers, so it's no surprise drug experts there have already spoken out against it.

The issue is there aren't many name-brand drug manufacturers in Canada, so most of their drugs come from manufacturers in the United States and other countries.

If the plans were to come through, pharmaceutical companies would be shipping their drugs to Canada at a lower rate, and then those drugs would be purchased by Americans and shipped or taken back over the border.

"The manufacturers here in the United States or those based in other countries are going to limit their supply to Canada," McDonald said. "They are going to get around this."

Officials with Canadian pharmacist organizations estimate a few days of mass importation into the U.S. could wipe out their supplies. That's not hard to believe when you consider there are 37 million people in Canada and about 327 million in the US.

McDonald also said the safety standards enforced by the FDA would be rolled back.

"They [consumers] should be genuinely concerned about the fact that the federal government is willing to lessen the standards for qualities of medications coming into this country when we know that people have died in this country because standards were so poor several years ago," McDonald said. "They should be more than genuinely concerned, they should be petrified."

McDonald said the plan is the federal government's roundabout way of dealing with Big Pharma raising drug costs, especially when it comes to insulin.

The cost of insulin is much lower in Canada and it doesn't require a prescription. However, it isn't on the proposed the list of drugs that would be permitted for importation. 

McDonald said manufacturers aren't the only ones to blame for inflated insulin costs, he said lawmakers need to look into pharmacy benefit managers or PBMs as well.

"Negotiating directly with the manufacturers for the best price but more importantly the best outcome," McDonald said. "Is the drug effective? Is it going to work? I need to be negotiating with the vendors hired by the insurance companies, PBM's who have been receiving these large rebates for years, of public money, and nobody knows what it is."

Medication waste is another huge issue being ignored. McDonald said he sends huge amounts to be destroyed every few weeks.

"We are taking garbage cans full and sending them back to be destroyed in an environmentally-friendly way," McDonald said. "The amount of waste going on the overutilization - it's out of control in this country. No one is talking about that at all."

AARP released a statement in support of the proposal Wednesday:

"AARP thanks President Trump and Secretary Azar for standing up to the big drug companies to disrupt the status quo and begin the process to allow for the safe importation of prescription drugs.

"Americans are fed up with paying the highest prescription drug prices in the world. We know from our research that lowering drug prices—specifically via importation is an issue that is widely supported by Americans across parties and ideologies: 81 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Democrats, and 85 percent of independents support safe importation of prescription drugs. 

"The Food and Drug Administration has long had the authority to approve importation plans, but has rarely done so. Today's announcement is an important signal that the administration agrees that lower priced drugs can be safely imported and that the FDA should use its full authority under law to help American consumers. 

"Let's be clear: there is a crisis in drug prices, and the safe, legal importation of less expensive prescription drugs is one step that will help lower costs and add competitive pressure on drug makers to lower the prices they set in the U.S.

"AARP strongly supported bipartisan legislation in Florida, Colorado, Maine, and Vermont to allow importation in those states. It is critical that the administration works closely with those states to allow those laws to take effect and to ensure that the policy makes prescription drugs both affordable and accessible to older Americans.

"AARP looks forward to seeing more details of the Action Plan and stands ready to work with the administration to allow for the safe importation of prescription drugs."

Stay tuned to NewsChannel 13 for updates on this story.

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Emily Burkhard

Copyright 2019 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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