The controversial crackdown on discount drugs mailed from Canadian pharmacies to U.S. customers will soon be halted according to the plans of the federal government, thereby removing the barriers towards Americans buying cheaper medications from abroad.
The Department of Homeland Security, which operates the Customs and Border Protection agency has said that it would stop the confiscation of Canadian drugs Monday and instead conduct random sampling to identify counterfeit and unsafe drugs. It has been estimated that common medications like Lipitor and Fosamax can be 30% to 80% cheaper from Canada and other countries. This year the U.S. government was confiscating as much as 20% of the shipments.
The US had begun this policy last November around the time enrollment began for the Medicare drug plan. Although U.S. officials claim that the Canadian shipments had been confiscated out of concerns about the drugs' safety, consumer advocates and others contended that the crackdown was an attempt to limit competition in the pharmaceutical market thereby compelling seniors to sign up for new Medicare plans paying higher prices for drugs from U.S. pharmacies.
The Medicare law requires enrollees to pay the full cost after their total annual drug spending exceeds $2,250. Coverage kicks in again if annual drug expenses hit $5,100. Therefore advocates said that many low-income seniors were considering going without needed medications through the end of the year.
Jodi Reid, director of the California Alliance for Retired Americans said that the change in customs' practices 'could have a huge impact.'
Reid said, "People were concerned that they might not get their drugs because they were getting seized. This does open that option again for people who were trying to figure out how to get their medications to manage their health at a price they can afford."
While it is illegal for individuals to import pharmaceuticals to take advantage of price differences, the Food and Drug Administration has surprisingly turned a blind eye to personal purchases of nonnarcotic prescription drugs from places such as Canada and Mexico in shipments of as much as three months' worth.
However from Nov. 17 the situation changed with customs undertaking a quiet crackdown on foreign mail-order drugs. According to some estimates over 40,000 packages were interdicted. Canadian mail-order pharmacies said seizures jumped to a peak this year of 20% of their U.S. shipments, up from 3% to 5%. Seizures were reported to have declined after the crackdown was disclosed in media reports.
Seniors complained about their failure to receive needed medications while certain members of Congress criticized the agency for failing to adequately warn people of the crackdown.
A Homeland Security spokeswoman would not discuss the change in policy, but she issued a statement saying, "While we are reversing this policy, [Customs and Border Protection] remains committed, in cooperation with the FDA, to protecting the American public from unsafe and ineffective medications. We will be focusing our resources to best protect the American public."
A spokeswoman for the FDA said the agency had no comment because it had not been officially informed of the change.