Foreign Drugs May Not Be Safe

Published January 1, 2004

In July and August 2003 the Food and Drug Administration examined shipments of foreign drugs coming through Miami, New York, and San Francisco. It found thousands of packages often contained dangerous, unapproved, or counterfeit drugs. Eighty-eight percent of the drugs examined did not meet FDA standards.

A second inspection in November 2003 at mail distribution centers in Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, and Seattle and post offices in Cincinnati and Memphis revealed similar problems: 1,728 unapproved drugs were found among the 1,982 parcels inspected.

The unapproved drugs included foreign fakes of FDA-approved drugs, recalled drugs, drugs requiring special storage conditions, and drugs requiring close physician monitoring of use.

Canada buys only 60 percent of its drug supply from the legitimate U.S. market–which means 40 percent of its drug supply originates in countries with a history of counterfeit and unsafe drug production. For example, there has been a 2,372 percent increase in imports from Iran and a 3,270 percent increase in imports from Brazil. Other countries include Bangladesh, China, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines.

Surgeon General Richard Carmona is very concerned about the extremely robust counterfeiting system for prescription drugs, saying counterfeiting “would pose significant challenges to any importation plan that we may be considering in the future.” Carmona is the nation’s top doctor, charged with guarding public health. He also chairs the federal government’s task force on prescription drug importation.

IT’S YOUR HEALTH is written by Conrad Meier, senior fellow in health policy at The Heartland Institute. This program is produced as a public service by Radio America. Meier passed away unexpectedly on March 18, 2005.