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Omnibus Bill Empowers FDA to Confiscate Imported Drugs

The recently signed appropriations or “omnibus” bill to fund the federal government includes an additional $94 million (Section 778) for the FDA to screen and stop drug imports at international mail facilities (IMFs). That could mean fewer people receiving their prescription medications that they have ordered from Canadian or other international pharmacies.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the FDA’s coming crackdown against opioids could be a cover for greater import refusals and destruction of imported medications. This new appropriation of $94 million is a lot of money. In the case of drug importation, that money could be used for good (intercepting opioid ingredients en route to drug dealers or addicts) or evil (refusing and destroying prescribed medication en route to a patient who can’t afford the drug here).

You can read the section of the bill showing the appropriation and what it’s for at the end of this post. It states that the money is for “necessary expenses of processing opioid and other articles imported or offered for import through international mail facilities of the U.S. Postal Service.” Those “other articles” include prescription medications from pharmacies in Canada and other countries. Since the FDA considers those imports illegal, at least under most circumstances, it can refuse them and even destroy them – but must first alert the patient who ordered them giving them due process to defend their prescription order. (more…)

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FDA Plan to Seize Illegal Opioid Imports Could Affect Prescription Deliveries

As reported by the Associated Press, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced a plan earlier this month to stop imports of opioid drugs by doubling the number of inspectors at international mail facilities. This type of targeted enforcement against opioid drug products is the stuff of real public health protection, but it can easily be misused to refuse online pharmacy orders of prescription medication imports. Millions of Americans are ordering medications from abroad because they cannot afford the exorbitant prices here in the United States. Prescription medication orders from licensed pharmacies in Canada and other countries should not be conflated with illegal importation of opioids.

(more…)

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Sen. Nelson Wants Answers from FDA on Actions Against Affordable Rx Imports in Florida

Sen. Nelson.

Standing up for his constituents on drug prices

Last month, I blogged about the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations’ sending agents with search warrants to pharmacy storefronts in Florida that help older people buy more affordable medications from Canada and other countries. The FDA tried unsuccessfully to get one of the stores’ owners, Bill Hepscher, who runs Canadian MedStore, to sign a statement acknowledging that reimportation of prescription drugs is illegal. The Florida pharmacy storefront story was first reported in Kaiser Health News.

Yesterday, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb demanding to know why some prescription orders coming from Canada and other countries were seized, and inquiring why the FDA raided the storefront offices.

Clearly, Sen. Nelson understands the technical illegality of personal drug imports and the need to protect people from counterfeit drugs and Fentanyl. However, his letter underscores his confusion about why the FDA is stopping people from getting non-controlled, regular prescription drugs now. He wants to know specifically if there is a change in FDA’s overall enforcement policy.

I’ve been warning about the serious public health ramifications of overzealous FDA enforcement on access to affordable medication for a long time. In 2015, I wrote a report about online pharmacies and personal drug importation, and sent it to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Back in 2006, Senator Nelson played the leading role in ending stepped-up enforcement efforts by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (more…)

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