Drug companies and FDA crack down on Canadian drug importation to protect profits

With an election on the horizon, and Canadian pharmacies proving to be as safe as U.S. counterparts, the Food and Drug Administration and big pharma are increasing efforts to prevent Canadian drug importation. Their aggressive tactics have left many seniors and uninsured Americans paying the price.

According to Dr. Paul Zickler, co-founder of DoctorSolve Canadian Pharmacy, a recent rash of seizures by U.S. custom officials, on behalf of the FDA, left hundreds of his American customers without adequate prescription medication.

"By seizing these drugs, which independent investigations have shown to be safe, the U.S. government is forcing many of its own citizens to choose between bare necessities and purchasing medications they need to survive," says Zickler.

Zickler adds that several Canadian pharmacies have experienced similar problems, probably pushing the number into the thousands.

According to Zickler, what Americans don't know is that many imported drugs are exactly the same as the ones purchased in their local pharmacy.

For example, all Lipitor is made by Pfizer Ireland Pharmaceuticals in Dublin, Ireland. The only difference between DoctorSolve's Lipitor and the U.S. version is the package's country code: the drug is manufactured exactly the same way, in the same facility, with exactly the same safety precautions. It's just distributed to different countries based on the code.

The FDA knows this. In addition, many Americans aren't aware that a compassionate discretion clause exists.

The FDA Web site states that when an imported drug doesn't pose an unreasonable risk, it can choose to release it to patients. The patient must affirm in writing that it is for personal use (90-day supply limit) and provide contact information for the U.S. physician responsible for the prescription.

Despite the policy, C. M. Johnson, a DoctorSolve patient in Washington state, says the FDA refused to release her seized prescriptions.

"The FDA agent told me 'they are sending the prescriptions back on grounds that they want you to buy drugs in the U.S., '" says Johnson. "When I responded that the drug companies had the FDA in the palm of their hand, the agent didn't disagree - and added that when the time comes, both she and her husband [both FDA employees] will purchase drugs from Canada."

The FDA declined to comment. Of course, the FDA receives about $260 million in annual user fees from the pharmaceutical industry, according to Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor in chief of "The New England Journal of Medicine" and author of "The Truth About the Drug Companies."

Angell's book states that in 2002, the ten Fortune 500 drug companies profited about $36 billion in 2002 - more than the combined profits of the remaining 490 businesses - and that U.S. prescription drug sales topped more than $200 billion per year. In addition:

- The top ten U.S. drug companies spent 14 percent on research and development, compared to 31 percent on marketing and administration; - The industry has the biggest lobbying group in Washington D.C. (675 lobbyists at a cost of over $91 million); - It spends huge amounts of money on campaign contributions ($85 million in 1999-2000).

In comparison, sales of Canadian drugs over the Internet to the U.S. are estimated at $631 million, according a report by John Lauerman of Bloomberg News.

Despite this small market share, huge profits, and America's dire need for affordable drugs, big pharma and its supporters are working harder to prevent importation and protect profits.

Meanwhile, the elderly and uninsured are paying the price - either in cold hard cash or sacrificed health.

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