Statement by The Heartland Institute in Response to the Recent Report to Congress by the Health and Human Services Drug Importation Task Force

December 22, 2004
Nicholas Tyszka

(Chicago, IL) On December 21, a task force assembled by the Department of Health and Human Services released recommendations on how Congress should deal with the increasing popularity of importing prescription drugs from foreign countries, including Canada.

Conrad Meier, senior fellow for health policy at The Heartland Institute, had the following to say about the report:

"The Health and Human Services Drug Importation Task Force missed its chance to slam the door on prescription drug importation, stopping short of clearly defined opposition to the practice. While the task force cited many of the safety and economic concerns that are well-documented and often repeated during the public debate over drug importation, it left ajar a back door for Congress to squeeze through.

"The 145-page analysis still leaves room for a limited importation program with Canada by suggesting that Congress establish certified drug wholesalers in a highly controlled environment with a laundry list of tough requirements that must be met, including restricting importation to the highest-cost drugs. That being said, Congress ought to consider that the president will veto any bill that doesn't strictly monitor the safety of our drug supply.

"Should Congress choose to ignore the significant warnings offered by the task force and the billion-dollar price tag for a safety protocol that would accompany any importation program, Congress should consider that the Canadian Health Minister has recently stated his country cannot and will not be the drug store for America.

"Ultimately, having a deal with a highly regulated supply source doesn't mean anything if there are few or no drugs to be had."


Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute and coauthor of Why We Spend Too Much on Health Care, added the following:

"Allowing drugs to be legally imported from Canada and other countries with price controls remains a bad idea for several reasons. First, the lower prices at which drugs are sold in other countries are not the result of their superior manufacturers or of market competition, but are due to threats by national governments to violate the intellectual property rights of drug companies that refuse to sell at government-determined prices. Importing drugs legitimizes this blackmail, encourages it to continue, and undermines intellectual property rights here in the U.S.

"At a more practical level, it is impossible for the FDA to guarantee the safety and quality of drugs coming from Canada and other countries. We know many of the drugs entering the country from Canada are actually produced elsewhere--sometimes in third world countries or countries known to be hostile to the U.S.--and "transhipped" to consumers in the U.S. An alarming proportion of those drugs are counterfeit, adulterated, or mislabeled. To inspect every package entering the U.S. that might contain these drugs, and then to run tests on more than a small fraction of the drugs found to see if they actually are what they claim to be, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions of dollars, every year. This would cancel out any savings that might be had from importing cheaper drugs.

"Finally, it is easy to predict what will happen soon after importing drugs is legalized. Some U.S. consumers will buy counterfeit or adulterated imported drugs and be injured. Some will even be killed. Victims and their families will sue Web site hosts (only to discover they are phantom legal entities without assets), drug company, and state and federal governments for failing to protect them from the dangerous products. More millions or billions of dollars will be spent on legal fees, drug companies (with the deepest pockets) will be punished for "allowing" something they in fact vigorously oppose, and the drums will beat for more regulation to "protect" American consumers."


Notes To Journalists:

Conrad F. Meier (meier@heartland.org) is senior fellow for health policy at The Heartland Institute and former managing editor of its national publication, Health Care News.

Joseph Bast (jbast@heartland.org) is president of The Heartland Institute, publisher of Health Care News, and coauthor of Why We Spend Too Much on Health Care.

The entire HHS report on drug importation can be found online at: http://www.hhs.gov/importtaskforce/Report1220.pdf


The Heartland Institute is a national nonprofit organization based in Chicago. Founded in 1984, its goal is to help build social movements in support of ideas that empower people. It is supported by approximately 1,500 donors and Members. No corporate donor gives more than 5 percent of its annual budget. For more information, call Nicholas Tyszka at 312/377-4000, or email him at tyszka@heartland.org.