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Counterfeit prescription narcotics

In their opposition to drug importation legislation, the myriad “non-profit” groups funded by drug companies often cynically invoke the evils of counterfeit drugs. We’ve seen this as recently as this week, when an importation bill triumphantly passed in Florida (Prescription Drug Importation Programs HB19). One such group, the Partnership for Safe Medicines, was called out by PolitiFact for essentially lying that the new state law would “allow” imports from China “without FDA inspection,” tacking on that “too many have already died from counterfeit drugs.”

The Florida drug importation bill builds in so many regulatory checks that it may in fact make importation from Canada into Florida safer than our “regular” drug supply chain, but that’s for another post. As it happens, no one has ever been reported killed by a non-controlled prescription drug imported from a pharmacy that required a valid prescription.

PolitiFact is right to call out PSM, but I’m sad to report that, yes, there is a very real counterfeit drug problem in the United States. But, unlike the fake counterfeit drug facts propagated by groups like PSM to scare people away from buying lower-cost medicines online, it comes in the form of illegal fentanyl ingredients used to make counterfeit prescription narcotics.

Pill Press Trade in the United States

For example, the U.S. DEA seized 20,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills in the Bronx this past February. In this case, the fentanyl ingredients are alleged to come from Mexico, whereas China is highlighted as the main source of illegal fentanyl and its analogs.

For counterfeit drug-makers and dealers to do this, they need pill presses. And there’s apparently a rampant illegal trade in this equipment often bought online and from China, as reported by CNN. People are overdosing and dying from these counterfeit prescription drugs, with perhaps the most famous victim being the musician Prince.

So, it’s critical to get pill presses out of the hands of counterfeit drug-makers. The Substance Tableting and Encapsulating Enforcement and Registration (STEER) Act (S 989) would empower the U.S. Attorney General to more effectively regulate the influx and distribution of pill presses to prevent counterfeit drug-makers from obtaining them. This bipartisan bill expressly targets the effective registration of pill presses, preventing their illegal distribution, and penalizing their illegal possession.

The Partnership for Safe Medicines has found a real counterfeit drug problem to highlight and it does so by chronicling news events on its website about arrests and overdoses related to fentanyl-based counterfeit prescription drugs. Surrounding these stories are many op-eds against drug importation bills written by people tied to the pharmaceutical industry and planted in newspapers throughout the country. PSM also seeks to discredit companies like PharmacyChecker that provide information about international online pharmacies that sell medicines at lower cost, safely.

Counterfeit prescription drugs, particularly ones made with fentanyl, are a real menace, but conflating that problem with importation of lawfully-manufactured less expensive medicines confuses disparate policy issues, which in turn denigrates our ability to tackle them. The STEER Act apparently doesn’t fall prey to that false conflation but wisely updates the law to curtail manufacture of fake, addictive prescription medication, which will save lives. I believe PSM supports this bill, and on this we agree with them.

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