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Drug import town hall draws large audience

“This bill puts patients in jeopardy.”

The Canadian drug importation plan being considered by lawmakers this year has spurred a lot of debate.

Proponents say imports would lower drug prices for cash-strapped Floridians. There are many groups opposing it, however, with some warning of the dangers of counterfeit drugs and others saying it could slow medical advancements to a crawl.

Despite concerns, the bills are advancing. Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it one of his priorities, and the Legislature has complied — HB 19 was greenlit by the House last week in a 93-22 vote, while SB 1528 is inching toward a floor vote.

The Partnership for Safe Medicines, one of the proposal’s most vocal opponents, has sent representatives to committee hearings and launched a statewide ad campaign in the hopes of killing the bills.

On Tuesday, it took its message directly to Floridians with a “Tele-Town Hall.”

PSM says more than 5,000 senior citizens tuned in to hear why, exactly, the group is against a proposal that policymakers say could keep more cash in their pockets.

The event was headlined by George Karavetsos, a former director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, who outlined the dangers of counterfeit drugs.

“Canada, with a population of 37 million, doesn’t have enough drugs in their drug supply to provide prescription drugs for a state the size of Florida, with 21 million people,” Karavetsos said, emphasizing that there’s no way for Florida to control the prescription drug supply chain on an international level.

“If you order prescriptions from Canada, you will think you’re getting drugs from a brick and mortar Canadian pharmacy, when in fact they can be coming from China or India, just being shipped through a Canadian pharmacy. There is no one looking at the drugs those companies receive from other countries which could allow counterfeit drugs to reach people in Florida.”

Counterfeit drugs are already a problem in Florida, Karavetsos said. But instead of being able to nail cases down to a single bad actor, importation would “widen the floodgates to counterfeit drugs in Florida.”

“I think about the impact on my fellow Floridians who go to clinics and trust their doctors to receive life-saving drugs,” he continued.

“If they receive an IV prescription medication, you’re putting those patients at serious injury and risk with this bill because they won’t know for certain what is going to be pumped into their veins.  This bill puts patients in jeopardy.”

Karavetsos’ counterfeit argument echoes that of former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who recently said he’s seen many cases where “intermediaries purporting to import Canadian drugs really source drugs from unreliable parties and counterfeiters.”

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