Pew Letter Raises Concerns about Drug Importation

As Congress continues to consider drug importation legislation, new voices keep chiming in to share their concerns. The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) began collecting letters last month, and as I was reviewing them, one in particular stuck out to me: a letter from the non-partisan research and policy organization, the Pew Charitable Trust, written to Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

Pew’s letter hit on a few important arguments against drug importation, including that the safety risks are high and the cost savings are minimal. Here’s a quick overview of their points:

Safety Risks are High
Drug importation poses serious risk to patient safety and the pharmaceutical supply chain. The drug review process in the United States is recognized worldwide as the gold standard. But it’s impossible for the FDA to inspect drugs that are coming in from all over the world, many via online pharmacies.

Cost Savings are Minimal
Some proponents believe importation will allow Americans to save millions on prescription drug costs. But the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) estimated “at most a modest reduction on prescription drug spending in the United States,” approximately $40 billion over 10 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 72 percent of Americans take prescription medications per year. By dividing $4 billion in annual savings by the number of prescription drug users, the savings result to a mere $17.54 per person a year.

As ASOP points out, more than 600 new illegal pharmacy websites launch each month, which makes it potentially impossible to detect a breach in the supply chain.

Patient safety remains at the heart of everything we do. Like Pew and ASOP, we’re concerned with the uncertainty and the risk drug importation poses to Americans’ health. Policymakers should consider a variety of tools to manage costs, but drug importation is not one of them.