Dec. 21, 2004 -- A Bush administration task force said Tuesday that the safety of widespread drug importation could not be assured and the practice would save little money.
Officials say that it cannot be done safely without massive amounts of federal spending and that actual cost savings for consumers would be minimal.
In a report delivered to members of Congress, a 13-member task force made up of administration officials concluded that there was essentially no way for the FDA to effectively police drug packages imported from Canada and elsewhere by individual consumers.
The report leaves the door open to importation by established commercial entities, such as drug wholesalers, under highly limited circumstances that appear to be non-negotiable from the administration's point of view. They include restricting importation to high-cost, popular drugs, establishing clear records of every stop along the drug shipment chain, and avoiding price controls opposed by drug companies and the White House.
Millions of Americans have turned to buying drugs from Canada, where brand-name prescriptions can sometimes be filled for half the U.S. cost. While the practice of drug importation remains illegal, regulators have turned a blind eye to individuals who try to save money by importing less than a 90-day supply at one time.
But the report also warns that the U.S. would only save 1% to 2% on its total drug costs by allowing for wholesale importation and at the same time would have to spend "several hundred million dollars" to boost the FDA's ability to properly monitor it, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters.
"Overall national savings from legalized commercial importation would likely be a small percentage of total drug spending," says surgeon general Richard Carmona, MD, who chaired the report task force.
Congress has already passed legislation allowing for some prescription drug importation, though the law was never put into effect because of a provision requiring the Health and Human Services secretary to certify that imported drugs pose no health risk to consumers.
Lawmakers last year ordered the administration to review the potential for legalizing drug importation, an effort that culminated in Tuesday's report. The 145-page document also appeared to serve as a list of demands should Congress move to pass popular importation legislation again.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders accompanying the report, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans warned that White House advisors would recommend that President Bush veto any legislation that does not fully address the task force report.
Bush administration officials have never taken a positive view of drug importation, warning that it is potentially unsafe and could damage the ability of private drug companies to invest in research and development.