On Thursday, the Florida House Health & Human Services Committee approved a bill to allow prescription drug imports from Canada. It now heads to House floor for a full vote.
As a practicing pharmacist in Tampa, I understand the motivation behind this legislation.
Every day, I see the negative impact of high prescription drug prices. I’ve often seen customers walk away from the pharmacy counter because they can’t afford their prescriptions.
Many patients have told me they’ve experimented with purchasing Canadian drugs online in order to save money.
A nationwide survey by Kaiser Health found that 8 percent of Americans said they or family members had imported prescription drugs.
I sympathize, yet I always caution against this move. The monetary rewards of Canadian prescriptions are just not worth their safety risks.
I urge Florida legislators to listen to health care experts on this issue rather than the understandable populist appeals and vote no on this dangerous legislation — and then get back to working on more productive ways to lower drug prices for Floridians.
Thousands of Americans have been injured or killed by imported prescription drugs.
In South Florida in 2017, a couple was convicted of trafficking counterfeit drugs from Canada and China that were responsible for at least four deaths. In Palm Harbor that same year, an oncologist was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for purchasing counterfeit medicines that had no active ingredients from a Canadian wholesaler.
The streets are full of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pain pills, many imported from abroad, that are contributing to the state’s dire opioid overdose epidemic. Last year, a woman in Wellington died after taking fake Oxycodone that contained fentanyl. There’s no way to know whether these look-alike pills are legitimate.
These safety problems aren’t an indictment of genuine Canadian drugs. Rather, they are a reflection of the fact that many “Canadian” prescription drugs aren’t Canadian at all.
While marketed as “Canadian,” they often actually come from developing countries where the World Health Organization estimates one in 10 drugs are counterfeit. One FDA operation estimated that just 15 percent of “Canadian” online prescription drug purchases are truly Canadian.
It’s so easy for someone in Asia to put up a website with an appealing name and sell counterfeit drugs to unsuspecting and desperate Americans. Some operations are even based in Canada but sell drugs imported from abroad. Customs and Border Patrol does its best to stop these illegal shipments into the U.S., but many slip through.
In short, Canadian prescription drugs are often Canadian in nothing but name. They should actually be called foreign — yet the legislation’s advocates invoke Canada’s golden reputation as if that will make everything wonderful.
While the bill tries to overcome these safety concerns, there is just no fail-safe way to do so. Unlike here, Canadian law does not forbid the shipment of drugs from abroad, including from developing countries rife with counterfeits, and Canadian law says government authorities don’t need to inspect drugs that are bound for export. This is why a bipartisan string of former FDA administrators have opposed importation from Canada.
Affordable prescription drugs would be such a tremendous benefit to Floridians, including those I see at my pharmacy counter. But prescription drug safety is priceless. Drug imports are dangerous, distracting from the real reforms needed to reduce prescription drug costs.
Dan Fucarino is the owner and a pharmacist at Carrollwood Compounding Center & Pharmacy.