The Trump administration has proposed a plan to let Americans import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada to make the drugs more affordable. Under the plan, states, wholesalers and pharmacies will submit plans on how they would safely import certain medications from Canada, with the plans evaluated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement, “We think there’s a real opportunity here where they can manage bringing drugs into the U.S. from Canada in a way that does preserve the safety of the American system.”
The price of prescription drugs has risen at an alarming rate in the United States. A recent investigation found that during a five-year span, the prices of over a dozen prescription drugs had doubled. Some patients have had to ration life-saving medications, like insulin, because they are unable to afford the full recommended dosage. A number of patients in Detroit, Michigan have taken to crossing the border to purchase insulin in Canada, where the cost is roughly one-tenth of the price in the U.S.
The announcement of the plan drew swift criticism on both side of the border. Importing prescription drugs from Canada has long drawn opposition in the U.S. over concerns about unsafe and counterfeit drugs. The head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Stephen J. Ubl, issued a statement saying that the plan is “far too dangerous for American patients.”
In Canada, the concerns seem to center on worries that the large-scale importation of pharmaceuticals by the U.S. could deplete the drug supply for Canada’s 37 million residents. They say that the existing supply of drugs in Canada is not always sufficient to meet the current needs of Canadians, and that pharmaceutical manufacturers may limit the amount of drugs they send to Canada to protect their profits. More than a dozen organizations have signed a letter to the Canadian government urging it to safeguard the country’s drug supply.