Congressional Drug Importation Legislation: Good Medicine or a Poison Pill?

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Companion legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House and Senate intends to permit personal and bulk wholesale importation of medication from Canada and several other countries. A regulated mail-order program is realistic, but the bulk wholesale component of the bill may actually kill the trade it seeks to facilitate.

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Our pharmacies are often the last resort for the poor and disenfranchised. Risking the well being of millions of low-income Americans to satisfy corporate profit defeats the point of importation.

Licensed Canadian mail-order pharmacies like Minit Drugs have been safely dispensing affordable drugs to American patients for nearly 7 years.

Congress had made several attempts to legalize the trade with no success due mainly to Republican opposition and a tidal wave of lobbying efforts by the pharmaceutical industry. However, the congressional roadblocks may be lifting due to a shift in leadership in both the House and Senate in favor of the Democrats. Earlier this month the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act was again introduced in both chambers as bipartisan companion legislation.

The bill (S. 242/ H.R. 380), aims to permit both personal mail-order drug importation as well as bulk wholesale shipments from several designated countries, mostly in Europe. It also implements several safety measures including FDA inspection and approval of Canadian pharmacies as well as a pedigree system to guarantee a secure supply chain. For the first year American consumers would be able to order personal supplies of medications by mail from registered Canadian pharmacies. The measure would formally regulate a process that over 2 million Americans already take advantage of.

However, most industry experts agree that the inclusion of bulk wholesale trade after one year of personal mail-order access would lead to a catastrophic breakdown of the entire importation market. The excessive demand associated with bulk sales would multiply the volumes exponentially beyond that of mail-order trade and likely disrupt the domestic pharmaceutical market for any exporting country. Many industry analysts also predict that profit taking by American wholesalers and retail pharmacies would result in minimal savings being passed on to patients anyway.

Despite non-discrimination provisions within the bill, pharmaceutical manufacturers are sure to exploit loopholes that will stall and delay supplies thereby creating distribution chokepoints that no government will be prepared to endure. Manufacturers have already drastically reduced surplus drug supplies in the European Union in efforts to thwart "parallel importation" between wholesalers in those countries, despite legalization of the trade. These manufacturers are introducing only enough product into the European market to meet local demand, let alone massive diversion to the U.S. market.

The Canadian government (Health Canada) has been carefully watching developments in Washington and is expected to react to any move toward legalized importation with a ban on bulk exports and may even prohibit exports entirely. Such a ban would render the Act ineffective in the first year, leaving the bulk channel as the only unlikely option - one that few if any countries will likely permit.

"Canadian pharmacies are ready and able to service a mail-order program for uninsured patients. But opening a global trade for bulk drugs is simply not sustainable - it could jeopardize existing therapies to millions of Americans," says Barney Britton, President of Minit Drugs.

"Our pharmacies are often the last resort for the poor and disenfranchised. Risking the well being of millions of low-income Americans to satisfy corporate profit defeats the point of importation."

Minit Drugs ( is a licensed pharmacy located in Calgary, Alberta (AB License # 1657), is CIPA certified and IMPAC accredited. All Canadian drugs are approved by Health Canada and dispensed by licensed pharmacists.


Barney Britton

President, Minit Drugs

Ph. 1-877-530-3743



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Minit Drugs
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