Customs Agents Seized 13,000 Prescription Drug Packages
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has seized about 13,000 packages of prescription drugs en route from Canadian pharmacies to U.S. residents since Nov. 17, when the agency began increasing enforcement of federal laws restricting the reimportation of prescription drugs from abroad, according to figures released on Wednesday by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the Los Angeles Times reports (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 3/9).
Canadian pharmacies have said that the U.S. government recently has increased seizures of medications ordered by U.S. customers. The purchase of medications from abroad is illegal, but customs and FDA officials generally have allowed the practice.
Some Canadian pharmacy officials have said that they believe the increased seizures are related to the launch of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Customs officials late last month acknowledged the stepped-up enforcement against the purchase of medications from abroad but said the change was not related to the launch of the Medicare drug benefit.
Several lawmakers have called for an investigation into the policy change (California Healthline, 3/1).
According to Nelson, drugs were seized at customs centers in Chicago, Miami, New York and Los Angeles. The largest number of packages seized -- about 4,000 -- came from the international mail center near Los Angeles International Airport.
Nelson said, "Seniors on fixed incomes rely on Canadian pharmacies because it's still cheaper than Medicare. It's clear this is a scheme designed to force seniors into the new Medicare prescription drug plan."
The customs agency said it could not confirm Nelson's numbers but added that the seizures will continue.
Agency spokesperson Suzanne Trevino said the crackdown resulted from an initiative launched more than a year ago to stop the flow of controlled drugs that often are abused, such as steroids. She also said customs officials notified FDA of the policy change prior to Nov. 17, adding, "They were made aware of what (Customs and Border Protection) was doing because we work right next to them in the international mail facilities."
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said last week that FDA was not responsible for the policy change.
Leavitt spokesperson Christina Pearson said Wednesday that FDA knew of the crackdown, but she could not say whether the agency played a role in the decision to make the change (Los Angeles Times, 3/9).