JONI INMAN: The dangerous myth of Canadian drug importation

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Recently, Gov. Jared Polis and President Donald Trump spoke about allowing Canadian drug importation in Colorado, a move they say will magically reduce the cost of prescription drugs and result in no negative impacts on unsuspecting drug consumers.

The facts — and every bit of credible analysis to date — say exactly the opposite.

Dozens of the most highly qualified law enforcement officials and former, senior staff at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration have conducted in-depth analyses that show Canadian drug importation will lead to a massive increase in counterfeit drugs entering the U.S.

Six U.S. jurisdictions have already attempted Canadian drug importation. All have failed. The toxic combination of insufficient Canadian drug supply, abysmal levels of participation by would-be Canadian suppliers, and little to no savings killed these programs.

Those factors haven’t disappeared, they’ve only grown more acute.  Which is why the Colorado Legislature, despite Polis’ empty claims of total victory with the legislation, watered down the drug importation bill (Senate Bill19-005) during the 2019 General Assembly.

The Legislature recognized the many flaws inherent in drug importation. The flaws are manifold. The Canadian prescription drug industry has repeatedly said it will refuse to participate in importation.  Allowing importation would create a critical Canadian drug shortage that will eliminate any possible savings. No Colorado wholesaler has agreed to distribute the ‘imported’ medicines, and the national group representing wholesalers opposes importation. And no standards of liability have been set that establish responsibility when a Coloradan is inevitably harmed (or killed) by counterfeit drugs that arrive here under the guise of the “Canadian” label.

These are just a few examples of the systemic problems with Canadian drug importation. Add to that the fact that the proposal threatens to undermine the existing prescription drug safety protocols in the United States, widely considered the best in the world today, and it’s clear that drug importation poses serious public health threats to Coloradans and citizens of other states where importation may pass.

Prizing political ‘wins’ at the expense of consumer safety is extremely dangerous. Yet both Polis and Trump, two polished politicians, continue peddling the myths of importation while ignoring meaningful policy changes that would truly reduce the cost of prescription medicines.

One such bill, that would have given consumers the infamously fought-over drug “rebates” was killed.  It would have had an immediate impact on patients, in a very positive way.  If Polis and Trump would join forces to go after drug pricing rebate reform, as one example, that would lead to real savings for every single American consumer.

This cynical game of building up hope through allegedly easy fixes while downplaying every single risk and legitimate real-world hurdle reminds me of the old adage . . .  “If it seems too good to be true, it is!”.

Joni Inman is co-chairwoman for Front Range PharmaLogic, which supports public policies that advance Colorado as a leader in life-saving innovations and economic opportunities that the biopharmaceutical industry delivers to our state and to patients around the world.