Sorry, but the ‘drugs from Canada’ don’t work


“Drugs from Canada” is a policy that won’t work. And a political soundbite that won’t die.

As H.L. Mencken presciently said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

That’s exceedingly true in the debate over whether states should be allowed to import drugs from Canada en masse. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration granted conditional approval for a Florida plan to do just that.

But let’s set aside the rhetoric and look at the facts:

First, how much would all the added risk to the safety and effectiveness of medicines from importation save US consumers? Hardly anything.

The Congressional Budget Office ran the numbers and found that importing drugs would cut costs by a paltry 0.01%.

If that sounds surprising, it’s probably because importation advocates exaggerate the savings patients can expect.

Outside of a few specialty drugs, most generic drugs approved by the FDA for sale in the United States cost about the same here (or less) as they do in Canada — and about 90% of the drugs prescribed in America are generics.

Second, the population math is upside down.

According to Mary Durette, a spokeswoman for Health Canada, Canada’s version of the FDA, “Canada’s drug supply is too small to meet the demands of both American and Canadian consumers.”

Florida has a population of almost 22 million. The strain on the Canadian medicine supply would likely lead to shortages and increased costs for Canadian patients.

If Canada filled 10% of US prescriptions, its own drug supply would run out in less than eight months.

 
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