August 18, 2019


No doubt the Food and Drug Administration is correct in asserting as it did recently that the cost of establishing a parallel inspection system for drugs imported from Canada would outweigh the benefits of the lower-priced drugs, especially if a system were designed specifically to cost more to achieve a political point. But unless the FDA can demonstrate that Canadians are dropping from poisoned or fake prescription medicine, its idea that the United States needs such a system is suspect.

Pressure on the FDA to act grows more intense as cities and states find less-expensive, identical drugs over the border and make plans to import them to save money. The need for this roundabout method of drug purchases is, of course, ridiculous, but the federal government refuses to do what every other developed nation does and set or negotiate drug prices, so local governments and individuals are left to fend for themselves.

Muddling the separate but related problems of fake drugs and high-drug costs doesn’t help the issue. There’s no evidence that Canada has a larger problem with counterfeit medication than the United States does. And if profit is the motive for the counterfeits, the lower cost of Canadian drugs suggests that it would have a lesser problem because the level of profit for the counterfeiters would be lower there.

Canadians largely buy the same drugs as Americans buy, but the price in Canada is 25 percent to 40 percent less. Americans subsidize Canadian drugs, just as they subsidize drugs the world over. This isn’t a safety question and it isn’t a question of whether cutting the drug price would cut pharmaceutical research and development. The growing use of drug and the rising prices is making them unaffordable to too many Americans and they are naturally finding ways to hold down costs.

The FDA can help this process or it can devise arguments against it. But either way, until Congress or the White House find ways to eliminate the price difference between the United States and Canada, Americans will cross the border, physically or online, and find less-expensive medication.

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