WASHINGTON – A government study found that Americans who bought prescription drugs in other countries to save money didn't always end up with what they expected.
At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday,Elizabeth G. Durant,the head of compliance at the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection,said “Operation Safety Cap” randomly sampled 100 individuals entering the United States with prescription drugs.
“During the course of the operation,there were several troubling instances of returning U.S. residents receiving different medications than the ones that they though that they were being prescribed,” Durant said. “In one instance a prescription that was labeled as penicillin was found to be amoxicillin.”
The Bush administration has opposed efforts to legalize the importation of prescription drugs,saying it's impossible to guarantee quality and safety.
“A growing number of Americans obtain their medications from foreign locations,often seeking out suppliers in Mexico and Canada,” Durant said. “However,the safety of drugs purchased from these sources cannot be ensured. Drugs produced outside the United States may be counterfeit.”
At the hearing,held to examine the implications of drug imports,a Food and Drug Administration official described a study on Internet pharmacy providers who all claimed to be based in Canada. The FDA found a few that were actually based in countries such as the Czech Republic,Vietnam and Belize.
“Drug counterfeiting is a real concern for the FDA,” said William K. Hubbard,FDA associate commissioner for policy and planning. “They're selling a dangerous drug,but visually it looks just fine.”
Some witnesses were more concerned about how Canada was having such a big influence on an important issue in the United States.
“I'm concerned about quality; I'm concerned about Canada law,” said Sen. Don Nickles,R-Okla. “I don't want to import Canadian law. Canada is concerned with the safety of Canadians,not Americans.”
Sen. Byron Dorgan,D-N.D.,counteracted: “This is not about importing somebody's law. It is about using a market system to access a product.”
Dorgan and several other senators recently introduced the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act. It would allow American consumers,pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import FDA-approved prescription drugs at the substantially lower prices available on the world market.
“We believe an approach used in Europe called parallel trading – we call it re-importation – is something that could be helpful,” Dorgan said.
Most of the witnesses did agree that something had to be done about the rise of prescription drug costs.
“Americans pay some of the highest prices for prescription drugs of any country in the world,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy,D-Vt. “Prescription drugs are a lifeline,not a luxury.”