- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

On Wednesday, Sen. Judd Gregg, chairman of the Senate’s health committee, introduced a bill to allow prescription drugs from Canada and other countries into the American market. Sponsors of the legislation say they have the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill and withstand a presidential veto. Although the firewall of political opposition to this proposal is melting, we remain convinced that drug reimportation is bad for the future health of Americans.

Safety is one of the most serious problems to bringing in medicine from abroad. There is no reliable system to guarantee the safety of drugs once they have left the country and are sent back over the border for resale. In Senate hearings two weeks ago, officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testified that they cannot support reimportation because there is a very high risk of consumers getting dangerous counterfeits or drugs that have been contaminated or tampered with. As the FDA states, “The standards for drug review and approval in the United States are the best in the world, and the safety of our drug supply mirrors these high standards.” Permitting foreign drugs into America lowers quality and safety standards across the board.

Importation of cheap drugs also undermines research on groundbreaking medicines. Last year, U.S. corporations that are members of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent more than $33 billion on research and development of new drugs. While it is easy and popular for some politicians and self-appointed consumer advocates to wail about the profits made by drug companies, it is these profits that underwrite research that will deliver the innovative drugs of the future. It is not a coincidence that almost all new drugs come from the United States and not nations with socialized medical care and price-controlled drug markets. Policies that undermine the profits of U.S. pharmaceutical companies logically eat up investment funds. The long-term affect of this can only be detrimental to public health.

Perhaps the most ridiculous argument in favor of reimportation is the claim that it is consistent with promoting a free market. Canada, for example, essentially blackmails U.S. corporations into selling products at low cost by threatening to accept foreign knockoffs if they don’t. American firms are forced to acquiesce to defend their patents. Allowing these drugs — which foreign governments keep artificially underpriced through price controls and by threatening U.S. intellectual property — is the antithesis of the free market.

Nobel Prize-winning free-market economist Milton Friedman is opposed to reimportation. He explains that “the purpose of the patent was to enable the patent owner to make enough money to pay for the cost of producing the drug.” His 1962 book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” is scripture to those who believe markets are superior to central control of the economy. Conservatives who support reimportation are bucking both the free market and its prophet.

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