The Partnership for Safe Medicines® recently hosted a panel briefing of several former federal law enforcement officials and public health experts to discuss the merits of recent prescription drug importation proposals. The panel highlighted one of the often overlooked aspects of these proposals aimed to quickly reduce the cost of prescription drugs to patients in need in the United States: the safety of these drugs that would circumvent current FDA regulated domestic supply chains.
Certainly the promise of lower cost prescription drugs is a powerful message to an electorate that sees the costs of these medicines continue to rise while stories of lower cost drugs in other parts of the developed world also make headlines. But those other countries have carefully negotiated and managed supply chains with pharmaceutical companies that ensure the safety of their drugs and often make it illegal to fill a prescription from outside the country. Such is the case in Canada, where Canadian pharmacies cannot fill prescriptions for U.S. patients. Instead, internet pharmacies that claim to be Canadian import drugs or counterfeits sell them to unsuspecting consumers. Like it has for so many other industries, the internet has enabled easy access of buyers and sellers, but with little accountability for product quality or authenticity. Consumers are left to trust the supplier is legitimate, often with no means for recourse if there is a problem.
So why not simply empower the FDA with oversight on importation of drugs from other countries to help ensure safety? That’s a reasonable proposal, but one that will undoubtedly add to the cost of importation. Furthermore, this is not a U.S. only policy problem. For example, if the U.S. and Canada were to legalize the import/export of drugs between the two countries, what would be the effect on Canadian drug prices? In 2014, total Canadian expenditures on prescription drugs was estimated to be $29B. By comparison the United States spent $374B. Even a mild influx of orders from the U.S. could stress the Canadian system, more importantly Canadians, affect pricing since drug companies will be forced to negotiate with Canada as an international supplier, and not a domestic single payer system, certainly driving up costs for Canadians.
The U.S. has left the pharmaceutical industry largely unregulated when it comes to pricing. We have no single payer system, we do not place limits on pricing, and we let the profit motivation of the free market system drive pricing, profit, investment, and innovation. And while we can certainly feel the effects of rising drug costs, we can also see that this system has of its own accord driven us to greater and greater innovation for treatments and cures, and has created a very secure supply chain for the sale and distribution of those medicines. There is almost certainly some kind of change and reform coming to healthcare costs in the U.S., and the pharmaceutical industry will have its part to play, but compromising safety cannot be part of the equation.
Counterfeiting and diversion of medicines and medical products are global issues that affect all countries. These illegal activities threaten the health and welfare of the citizens who receive fake or substandard product, as well as threaten the revenues of brand owners. These activities also undermine the efforts of the government to ensure the availability of affordable drugs to its citizens, thus enabling the proliferation of disease, which can lead to development of drug resistant pathogens.
Authentix is dedicated to the development of products and services that allow the authentication of products and their packaging in supply chains around the world. Authentix provides integrated programs that enable manufacturers to protect their products in complex supply and distribution chains, and informatics to monitor and report on problems as they become apparent.
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