- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

I bought Vicodin, Oxycontin’s tender cousin, on the Internet without a prescription withafakediagnosis (chronic back pain). It did not come from Canada, though one of the Web sites offering the drug was north of the border. It came from Florida. The purchase of drugs without a prescription via the Internet, particularly narcotics, is exploding. It is one of the fastest-growing parts of the prescription drug business and the most profitable, because most the drugs sold by these fly-by- night operations are diverted or stolen. And it will be easier to score narcotics if the drug importation mob gets it way.

That’s because the importation bill strips the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the authority to monitor the safety of the products coming into the country or being sold to people like me. The illegal trade in prescription drugs — increasingly hard to detect look-alikes, tainted products and stolen goods — is already growing despite stepped-up efforts by the FDA and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The bill virtually assures that the United States will be flooded with questionable medicines from a wide array of exporters.

Reps. Gil Gutknecht, Minnesota Republican, and Joanne Emerson, Missouri Republican, claim their legislation requires products to come from FDA-approved facilities overseas. But that does not mean these facilities are FDA-inspected — a far different thing — and in any event, inspections are few and far between. Therefore, they could only provide a small fraction of the total pharmaceutical market.

So, does anyone really believe that given a lower threshold of detection and more open borders,thequantityof knockoffsandillegally shipped narcotics wouldn’t increase? (The idea that anti-counterfeiting technology will stop the flow of bogus or illegal products is undermined by the fact that packaging is easier to replicate than the drugs themselves.) Indeed, the bill simply expands the huge loophole for importing drugs — the same one that fueled most of the growth in the first place — the personal use exemption.

That will leave America open to exploitation at the hands of less than diligent pharmaceutical distributors. It is not well-known that Canada is a net importer of medicines, even as it has been exporting an increasing percentage of its drugs to the United States. While the absolute amount of drugs from America has been increasing over the past few years, the relative amount of medicine imported from America has actually declined. It is less well-known that at the same time, the percentage of drugs imported from Turkey, Pakistan, South Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh has increased by up to 1,300 percent. Over the past year, Canada has imported — through the kind of personal use exemption proposed by the Gutknecht bill — over $264 million from over 60 different countries with pharmaceutical quality standards that are either substandard or cannot be verified.

Those drugs make their way into America to meet the demand for Canadian medicines in increasing numbers. The importation of drugs from such questionable sources will only grow, as will the number of distributors and Internet sites willing to sell them to folks seeking to save a few dollars or to avoid the legitimate methods of obtaining medicines.

To suggest that we should take stern measures to block the flow of such products is, of course, to kill the Gutknecht bill, which allows as many drugs from as many price-controlled countries as possible. Mr. Gutknecht promised that his bill would save Americans at least $635 billion. But the Congressional Budget Office estimates that at most, consumers might save $4 billion a year from importation. That doesn’t take into account the $2 billion cost of meeting the anti-counterfeiting guidelines of the legislation, guidelines that will have to be upgraded to stay ahead of counterfeiters who are as adept at imitating drug packaging as they are the drug themselves.

But it does take into account the fact that there will be far fewer drugs safely being imported into America that Mr. Gutknecht and his drug importation mob would have us believe. Both the DEA and the FDA believe that the Gutknecht bill will make their job harder and the work of criminalseasier.Mr. Gutknecht calls these protectors of our public safety and public health liars because safety and law enforcement stand in the way of his political ambitions. Who do you believe?

Robert Goldberg is director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress.

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