Statement by Lee Walker Opposing Drug Importation

Published April 7, 2004

I am Lee Walker, president of the New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, a nonprofit research and education organization based in Chicago.

I participated in a conference discussing the pros and cons of drug importation last October, and learned quite a lot about the issue. I believe drug importation would have its biggest effects on African Americans. And finally, I have a personal interest in this issue.

My son-in-law, Lamar, on doctor’s orders, had to stop working six or seven years ago because of Sickle Cell Anemia. He has the disease, not just the trait. On average he sees a doctor or is in a hospital twice a month.

Thankfully, my daughter – his wife – has a degree in Information technology and is the bread winner for the family. His drug bill would be $600.00 per month if she didn’t have a family health insurance policy through her job. They have three children and there are tough times.

Lamar and my daughter would like to spend less on medicine – but would be leery of buying drugs from Canada. With his health already at risk, they don’t want to risk making things worse by accidentally taking a fake or counterfeit drug, or one that doesn’t work because it is past the expiration date.

The debate over drug importation is complicated – I’m not here to say otherwise. But there should not be any debate about three facts. The first is that not all of the medicines sold in Canada were tested in or approved by safety officials in the U.S. Some were manufactured in third world countries under conditions far different, and less safe, than conditions here in the U.S. or even in Canada. That puts people’s lives at risk.

Second, a cure for Sickle Cell Anemia, if one is ever found, will be found in the U.S., because it is here where billions of dollars in capital are being raised to find and test the next generation of life-saving drugs, not in Canada, and certainly not in third world countries. Drug importation threatens to undercut that investment and research process. By doing so, it is threatening Lamar’s life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of other victims of diseases for which there still are no known cures.

And third, the people most likely to receive second-class drugs imported from Canada are those least able to afford to buy drugs today. Wealthy people will buy their drugs from U.S. pharmacies. Poor people who buy their drugs from Canada.

I oppose drug importation because drugs imported from other countries aren’t as carefully screened and tested as drugs bought here at home; increasing importation means cutting off the stream of investment that makes it possible for drug companies to discover and market the next generation of life saving drugs; and drug importation creates a two-tier system of drug quality in the U.S., one for those who can afford to pay for American-made drugs, and one for low-income people.

Lee Walker is president of the New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, a nonprofit research and education organization based in Chicago. He can be reached at 312/377-4000 or by email at [email protected].