Prescription Drug Roulette

Published January 1, 2003

A growing number of governors say they intend to defy federal regulators and allow the purchase of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada. Using potentially dangerous re-imported drugs is nothing more than prescription drug roulette.

On September 29, 2003, the FDA announced that an examination of 1,153 mail parcels destined for the U.S. from other countries revealed 1,019–nearly 90 percent–contained medications that violated U.S. drug safety laws. The majority contained drugs of unknown quality and origin.

Prescription drugs are more expensive in the U.S. than in other countries–a consequence, in part, of the massive investment in research and development done by firms in this country. But the debate over drug re-importation and the price of prescription drugs has distracted the public from a very important issue: the health risks posed by fake medications.

Some documented examples:

  • Lebanon, 1998: Interpol, the international police agency, says an immense factory in the Bekaa Valley may be the world’s largest producer of counterfeit medication.
  • Florida, 2003: Concerns about the safety of drugs surfaced after prosecutors announced a grand jury had indicted 19 people on charges of selling fake prescription drugs to businesses selling prescription medications to consumers.

Some of those businesses could well have been located in Canada, and they in turn sold the drugs to unsuspecting Americans. Reasonable people will admit there is a reasonable doubt as to the safety of re-imported drugs.

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.