What Is Drug ‘Reimportation’?

Published September 1, 2003

Drug reimportation refers to allowing prescription drugs produced for use in another country to be imported into the U.S. for sale here instead. Because these drugs were often originally manufactured in the U.S., and then exported abroad, their return to the U.S. has been termed “reimportation.”

“Under current law,” explains attorney Demetrios L. Kouzoukas, “only pharmaceutical manufacturers themselves are allowed to reimport prescription drugs, and even then only under the Prescription Drug Marketing Act of 1988.”

Current legislative proposals for reimportation, such as the Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003 (H.R. 2427), approved in the House in late July and now pending in the Senate, would allow other parties–retail pharmacies and individual patients, for example–to reimport drugs from 26 foreign countries.

Supporters of reimportation say the practice would allow U.S. patients to purchase prescription drugs at lower prices than they currently pay. The text of H.R. 2427, for example, asserts “allowing open pharmaceutical markets could save American consumers at least $635 billion of their own money each year.”

Detractors disagree, saying reimportation will limit the availability of drugs in the foreign countries from which reimportation to the U.S. is allowed. “This is exactly what happened with AIDS drugs to Africa,” notes Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute, “when roughly one-fifth of GlaxoSmithKline’s deeply discounted AIDS shipment to Africa was resold in European markets.”

Opponents of reimportation also warn of other negative consequences, among them dangers to patient safety, due to the reimportation of counterfeit drugs or those beyond their expiration dates, and reduced investment in essential research and development by pharmaceutical companies.

Diane Carol Bast is vice president of The Heartland Institute and editor of Health Care News. Her email address is [email protected].

For more information …

see “Rx Reimportation: A Legislative History,” by Demetrios L. Kouzoukas, Health Care News, November 2002. http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=10669