NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Foreign Drugs Raise Safety Concerns

January 6, 2004

Thanks largely to the Internet, Americans are buying more drugs than ever before from Canada and at least 25 other countries, including Austria, China, Ireland, Italy, Israel and Mexico.

The Food and Drug Administration repeatedly warns such drugs raise serious safety concerns: They could be counterfeit, contaminated, expired, mislabeled or mishandled. The agency won't vouch for the quality of imported foreign drugs or those sold over the Internet, since there is no way to determine the origin of the drugs, their quality, their effectiveness, or if they endanger health.

Consider these documented examples:

  • Turkey, 1993: A pharmacist tries to sell baking powder to a patient as a genuine prescription drug. He is arrested by police.
  • Haiti, 1996: At least 88 children die after taking counterfeit antipyretic syrup for relief of pain and fever.
  • Kansas City, 2002: Authorities arrest a local pharmacist for diluting cancer drugs given to hundreds of patients while selling the medications at full price.

The World Health Organization estimated in 2000 that about 8 percent of bulk drugs imported to the United States are counterfeit, unapproved, or substandard. The FDA has told Congress it has little information about such shipments. According to FDA officials, it would require hundreds of millions of dollars, years of planning, and additional staff to monitor the large-scale importation being suggested by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and others.

Loopholes in current federal and state regulations make it difficult to follow the drug trail. Some states erect few barriers against setting up shop as a wholesaler, and no nationally applicable law requires distributors to document a drug's origin or quality as it makes its way to the consumer.

Source: Conrad F. Meier, "Drug Importation Roulette," Health Care News, November 1, 2003, Heartland Institute.


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