NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Maine: Taking a Stand against Big Pharma

October 15, 2013

The hunt for cheaper prescription drugs long has led consumers to reach beyond U.S. borders, but under a new Maine law, their search now will have the state's blessing, says the Wall Street Journal.

The law, the first of its kind, sanctions the direct purchase of mail-order drugs from some foreign pharmacies. It has ignited a court battle with the pharmaceutical industry and set the stage for a broader fight over access to less-costly medication.

  • Drug makers argue in a lawsuit that the practice could expose residents to tainted or counterfeit medication and that it interferes with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight.
  • Supporters say the industry is worried about a hit to its bottom line.
  • Americans generally pay more for drugs than residents of countries where the government imposes pricing caps or negotiates prices with drug makers.
  • The FDA prohibits importing medication by any means, but the agency rarely enforces the ban among consumers.

Americans have crossed the Canadian border for prescription drugs since the 1950s and would have stopped if the drugs were unsafe, says Tim Smith, a general manager at the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, which represents drugstores that ship to Americans.

"If Maine can do this, other states will do this. It could have a big impact on pharmaceutical companies' long-term profits and desire to invent new medications," says Boston University economics professor and National Center for Policy Analysis Senior Fellow Laurence Kotlikoff. "On the other hand, in some areas, they [drug makers] need to be brought back in line."

Source: Jennifer Levitz and Timothy Martin, "Maine to Allow Prescription-Drug Imports," Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2013.


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