Illegal Shipments of Rx Drugs Slip Past Customs Agents
Thousands of illegal shipments of prescription drugs are entering the United States through the postal service each month, according to a recent survey of mail inspection sites, the Wall Street Journal reports. While FDA rules prohibit the importation of prescription drugs by anyone other than a pharmaceutical company or its distributors, exceptions are sometimes granted for patients seeking treatments unavailable in the United States. FDA policy calls for customs agents to detain packages that appear to contain prescription drugs until the shipments are inspected by an FDA official. However, a survey by the FDA and the U.S. Customs Service found that "overwhelmed" customs agents release many packages after X-rays have shown they "probably contain medications." According to the survey, inspectors at a mail facility outside of Los Angeles held 1,900 packages for review out of an estimated 16,000 that could have been detained. More than 80% of the held shipments contained prescription drugs, including Viagra and Propecia, that lacked a prescription.
Drug shipments from oversees have grown in the last few years because of medications' increased availability on the Internet, customs officials say, adding that the "sheer number" of shipments make it impossible for the FDA to review the packages on a case by case basis. Customs agents say they lack the resources to enforce the rules, so many illegal prescription drug shipments are sent to their destinations, even though they do not meet FDA requirements. In addition, custom officials say that FDA understaffing prevents timely inspections, causing "logistical and space problems," the Journal reports. Politics also has complicated the issue, the Journal reports. Although the personal-use exemption was not designed to help people find cheaper medication, some lawmakers are "open to that idea." Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.) said, "While we would like to stop dangerous drugs from being brought in for abuse and stop people from getting drugs that are counterfeit or bogus, we don't want to interfere ... with an older person getting a better buy" (Leuck, Wall Street Journal, 5/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.