New York Times Examines Increased Support for Programs To Purchase Medications From Other Nations
The New York Times on Thursday examined the "growing political support" for efforts to purchase lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other nations, as several governors consider programs to allow the practice and lawmakers consider such a provision in Medicare legislation. Governors in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin in recent weeks have announced plans to consider programs to purchase prescription drugs from Canada for state health plans and "save state budgets and their citizens millions in the process," according to the Times. In addition, the issue has "become central" in the Kentucky gubernatorial race between state Attorney General Ben Chandler (D) and Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.), the Times reports. According to the Times, the "trickle" of U.S. residents who purchase prescription drugs from Canada and other nations "is threatening to turn into a flood." Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who has proposed a state program to allow the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada, said, "The reason you have the beginnings of a prairie rebellion here is that there is a crisis and nobody has properly responded." However, FDA officials and the pharmaceutical industry question the safety of prescription drugs purchased from Canada and other nations. According to the Times, increased support for the practice "has galvanized the industry against one of the most serious threats to its profits since the Clinton health care proposals of 1993." Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said that the practice would make U.S. residents "guinea pigs," a "proposition that no responsible lawmaker should support" (Harris, New York Times, 10/23).
The Washington Post on Thursday concluded a five-part series titled "Pharmaceutical Roulette" that examined safety issues in the U.S. prescription drug supply. Summaries of the articles published Thursday appear below.
- "Millions of Americans Look Outside U.S. for Drugs": In the lead article, the Post examined how many U.S. residents obtain lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, Mexico and other countries, a trend in which "the nation's drug distribution chain is being breached, exposing consumers to risk and swamping regulators." Customs officials estimate that each year about 10 million U.S. citizens bring in medications from other countries, an additional two million packages of pharmaceuticals come from overseas by mail and "[s]till more packages" arrive from online pharmacies in Canada. Although the FDA has said the "nearly all" such drugs are "illegal and possibly unsafe," several barriers to enforcement -- including limited resources to inspect packages and the "sheer volume" of drugs now coming into the United States from abroad -- exist, according to the Post (Flaherty/Gaul, Washington Post, 10/23).
- "Canada Is a Discount Pharmacy for Americans": The Post reports that "new technology, regulatory gaps and a growing demand for low-cost drugs" have led to a situation in which "Canada has become the United States' favorite drugstore for seniors -- and its de facto Medicare drug benefit." While supporters of cross-border prescription trade say lower-cost Canadian pharmacies expand access to drugs, the "Canadian traffic poses new challenges for state and federal regulators and highlights loopholes in a U.S. system that prides itself on being the toughest in the world," according to the Post (Gaul/Flaherty, Washington Post, 10/23).
- "Border Cases": The Post profiled three cases in which regulators identified drugs in the U.S. system "intended for foreign markets that get diverted for domestic consumption" (Gaul/Flaherty, Washington Post, 10/23).