I was listening to the radio on the way home when they had a Consumer Reports minute where the guy talked about importing prescription drugs from Canada. To their credit they did pretty much everything but tell you how to do it, and are apparently offering a report on pricing.
It seems that the major obstacle to this is the drug companies stating that they cannot vouch for the safety of the drugs that are imported. This strikes me as extraordinarily disingenuous. They make the product, they export the product, and they are unable to vouch for its safety? Something’s up here. Either they are giving Canadians an inferior (and therefore unsafe) product, opeining themselves up for all linds of liability suits, or they are lying and they just want to be able to gouge us here in the United States.
Is there something I’m missing here, or is that really it?
This isn’t quite an accurate re-statement of the argument made by the drug companies.
A more accurate re-statement would be, “You can’t trust Canada to have properly maintained a safe prescription drug supply; there might be counterfeit drugs for sale there.”
This should be perceived as a direct slap at Canadian authorities. It is also probably total nonsense. In the end run, of course, the pharmaceutical companies will do most anything they can to preserve the current situation in the United States, which allows them to make considerable profits off the prescription drugs they still have under patent.
Though it is illegal to do so, I obtain my Allegra from Canada, where it is a non-prescription drug, and costs considerably less. Used to do the same with Claritin, before the patent expired.
We use those drugs. I’m sure, if there was a quality control problem, we would know about it. Those of us who have survived to adulthood, that is. I’ve yet to meet someone who heard about these concerns and reacted with anything other than “well, that’s stupid.”
And as has been mentioned, the drugs are often manufactured in the United States along with those sold there. There’s no difference in composition or quality.
Anyone who thinks that Canadians would put up with second rate or compromised drugs that are inferior to what is available in America is an utterly complete idiot ! That the pharmaceutical companies in America think that they can sell this perception to Americans is really scary.
Well, there are some people out there selling drugs without prescriptions that may be expired and so forth, but from reputable Canadian pharmacies, there are absolutely no reasonable concerns about safety and efficacy. So long as they aren’t shipped in a black metal box across Death Valley in summer on the back of a camel, you’re fine.
I think there’s a Canadian stake in this, though, as increasing demand for Canuck meds is going to put supply pressures on their markets. I’m sure the Canadian pharmacies love the business, as they can jack up the price a bit and still easily undersell American pharmacies, but for the Canadian consumer, there could be problems…one of which is the pharmaceutical companies could slam the Canadians with demands for more money if they know they’re exporting lots of drugs across the border. IOW, the big loser in the end could be Canada. America is already the big loser, as we subsidize their cheap drugs.
This happens all the time in Europe, it is called parallel trading. A pharmacy in Spain will send huge amounts of drugs to the Netherlands, and France will import drugs from Germany while exporting some to Portugal because one nation gets a better price than another. So this is a safe enough method as Europe has been doing it for a while with no problems. All you need is some oversight either from US or Canadian authorities. I think this question was posed on 60 minutes once where the interviewer said “if safety is such a big concern why not just send a few overseers to a handful of Canadian pharmacies to make sure that the right drugs are getting sent out”. I don’t remember the response.
The only reason it is unsafe is because it is illegal. And it is illegal because it is unsafe. The actual reason it is illegal is market economics, but the given reason is safety.
Parallel trading works in Europe because in the EU the prices for drugs are strictly controlled. It’s a complete non-startin in North America because in Canada prices are controlled, in the US they essentially aren’t. The US is the only country in discussion where consumers are charged what the market will bear. It is the largely unwitting largesse of the American sick that keeps the pharmaceutical industry chugging along. In the US, drug companies make a nice profit. Elsewhere, they’re sometimes doing well to break even. You win approval for something in Europe, the markets give you a little pat on the head. You win approval in the US, your stock goes through the roof. It’s that simple.
So, realistically, if imports of drugs from Canada can continue unchecked, and this becomes a very popular thing to do, something will have to give. What, I don’t know. My guess is Big Pharma will seek to exert their considerable influence on Canadian politics in a manner unheard of up there but de rigeur down here. If Canadian imports can flow unhindered and in large quantities, that means Pharma has lost the battle down here. They’ll take it elsewhere, simple as that.
Yes, AD, as all said…it’s just a big marketing scam. They’ve got a good deal here in the States and wish to preserve it.
This is one of the odd spaces where market forces and human interests come into conflict. Health care often finds itself in this spot. We, in the states, tend to be market supporters (to a greater or lesser extent) but pay the price when it comes to health care.
I’m telling you folks, as I’ve said before. Some form of National Health Service is coming to the USA. Sometime in the next 20 years it’ll be here. The only question is when. Prepare now.
The flip-side of this is, of course, that R&D budgets will be slashed and we’ll have to rely on state-run outfits for new drugs. That is, unless other countries agree to pay more. Which they won’t do. That’s a very different paradigm, and I’ve no idea how it would work.
Really, the industry is probably pretty hosed in the long run. The growth is unsustainable because nobody can pay for it for long. Of course, as soon as people stop paying for it, there won’t be much money to do anything new. So they’ll keep churning out the old stuff, which will be fine, but you won’t see many new medicines each cycle, especially mass-market type remedies like painkillers. That’s probably a moribund market even now, given the Vioxx fiasco.
I look at the situation, and wish I could see a good solution, but there’s just little to be done about the reality of increasing longevity and the insatiable desire for new and better treatments for what ails us, the latter feeding voraciously on the former. Hopefully I’ll have something to do with myself in fifteen or twenty years, or maybe biotech will somehow weather socialization. I kinda doubt it, though. Good thing I’m not paying a big mortgage!
But safety is not an issue in parallel trading for the EU, but safety is the reason given for why the US can’t engage in it. It is somewhat insulting for politicans and lawmakers to assume that the US can’t handle something that the Europeans can handle easily, that is like an American saying Europeans don’t know how to drive.
And as far as pharma R&D it is a complex matter. However there are a couple of important points of contention
75% of pharmaceuticals that hit the market are just ripoffs of existing drugs (ie another SSRI, another statin, another cox-2 inhibitor) and only 25% are new drugs or new uses for old drugs. For 75% of the drugs that come to market you usually have a pre-existing drug to pick from that is just as effective.
30-50% of pharmaceutical research is funded by the US government, it’ll take me a while to dig it up but I’ve read statistics saying 70-80% of breakthrough pharmaceuticals either in whole or in part used taxpayer funded research. So the idea that the government shouldn’t have any role in the pricing a product they invented is not really feasable.
I would be in favor of raising taxes on pharmaceutical R&D by another 10-20 billion if we could get price controls instead. That way we’d still get R&D but be able to afford the drugs.