Seized Medications Released to Consumers
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has begun to release to U.S. customers hundreds of packages of prescription drugs that were seized in transit from Canadian pharmacies over the past several months, the Los Angeles Times reports (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 3/1). 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 the launch of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Last month, Reps. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) sent a letter to FDA and customs officials to request an explanation for the increased seizures. HHS denied that the federal government has increased seizures (California Healthline, 2/16).
However, customs officials this week "acknowledged that the agency has stepped up enforcement" against the purchase of medications from abroad, the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 3/1).
Zachary Mann, a customs spokesperson in Miami, said that agency officials changed the policy on seizures of medications purchased from abroad on Nov. 17, two days after enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug benefit began. Mann said that he could not provide a reason for the policy change but added that the change was not related to the launch of the Medicare prescription drug benefit (Kumar, St. Petersburg Times, 3/1).
Customs officials said that the policy change was intended to "protect consumers from potentially dangerous drugs manufactured abroad," adding, "In no way are these procedures intended to force U.S. residents into participating in Medicare Part D."
Meanwhile, lawmakers and Canadian pharmacies such as CanAmerica Global and Extended Care Pharmacy have received reports from many U.S. customers that they have begun to receive their seized packages of prescription drugs. Many of the customers had received replacement medications from the pharmacies at no cost.
CanAmerica has asked customers to return the seized medications for safety reasons.
Lynn Hollinger, a customs spokesperson, said that she was unaware that seized medications were released to customers, adding that she cannot explain the reports from pharmacies (Los Angeles Times, 3/1).
Several lawmakers have called for an investigation into the policy change on seizures of packages of prescription drugs purchased from abroad -- "or at least an explanation" -- in response to telephone calls from constituents.
"There should be a kinder, gentler way to enforce this law," Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) said (St. Petersburg Times, 3/1).
Gutknecht said, "This unannounced policy of increased enforcement is irresponsible. If federal agencies have decided to increase the seizure rate of imported prescription drugs, they need to explain why. The Americans whose health depends on these medications have a right to know" (Los Angeles Times, 3/1).
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) recently wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security to investigate whether the policy change was related to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. "I am particularly disturbed by the timing of this new wave of seizures," he said, adding, "This raises questions about whether the government is trying to force seniors to enroll in the new Medicare drug program."
Senators on Wednesday likely will ask HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt about the policy change during a Senate Budget Committee hearing (St. Petersburg Times, 3/1).