Importing Drugs from Canada is a Flawed “Solution” for Failures in the U.S.

Importing Drugs from Canada is a Flawed “Solution” for Failures in the U.S.

Prices in the United States for many medications, primarily generic products, are reasonable and even inexpensive considering their value in maintaining and improving health. HOWEVER, the prices for many other medications are excessive and unjustifiable.

It is the pharmaceutical companies that establish the initial list prices for these drugs, but health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers also extract large profits from the continued worsening of the drug pricing debacle.

It is ironic that these industries take turns blaming each other for the high costs of drugs while, at the same time, all of them are being further enriched by the secretive and cyclical process in which they continue to increase the prices of drugs. The victims of this “system” are patients who often can’t afford the medications, our society that must assume the financial burden for excessive drug prices, and the pharmacies that are not adequately compensated for their important role in the distribution and appropriate use of medications.

The recognition of these problems is not new. Indeed, the outrage, rhetoric, and debate regarding drug prices have continued for decades, but what has been accomplished? In a word, “NOTHING!” The financial interests, bureaucracy, politics, and lobbying of those who might lose a fraction of their riches have prevented any progress in developing better drug pricing, distribution, and availability strategies.

Because of policies and controls on drug prices that have been established in Canada, many drugs are available at much lower prices there than in the U.S. Approximately 15 years ago, there was strong activity on the part of patients and others in the U.S. to obtain drugs at lower prices from pharmacies in Canada. Although some were successful in this effort, there were also negative ramifications and, for the most part, this strategy failed. One might think that relatively recent experience would still be fresh in our memories. However, once again, some state and national government officials are actively developing plans to facilitate importation of drugs from Canada because we have failed to establish equitable drug pricing strategies in this country. There is a saying that those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. Importation of drugs from Canada was a flawed and failed strategy 15 years ago, and it will fail again now.

The importation of drugs from Canada is not only an unworkable and ineffective strategy, but it is also extremely unfair to inflict certain of the consequences of the drug pricing and distribution failures in the U.S. on our neighboring country. The population of Canada is far smaller than that of the U.S. and the supplies of medications in that country are also correspondingly smaller. If large quantities of certain individual or classes of medications were imported by the U.S. from Canada, this could create havoc in the supply and availability of these medications in Canada. As just one of the many potentially negative consequences of significantly expanded importation of drugs, we are not close to addressing the problems of shortages of important medications in the U.S., and it is inappropriate to burden our neighbor with the risk of consequences resulting from failures in this country to establish an adequate and equitable drug pricing and distribution system. These challenges originated in the U.S., and it is up to the citizens and government of the U.S. to resolve them in this country.

There are concepts and strategies that can greatly improve the affordability of drugs and the quality and effectiveness of the drug distribution system in the U.S. Although they are beyond the scope of this commentary, such strategies are identified in previous editorials in The Pharmacist Activist. However, the courage, will, and determination to take action are essential!

Daniel A. Hussar

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