Project 21 New Visions

 

AARP'S Campaign to Import Uncertified Drugs Poses Hazards to Seniors' Health and Budgets


by Ak'Bar Shabazz

 


The Medicare reform legislation passed by Congress last fall brought more affordable prescription medicines to 42 million elderly and disabled beneficiaries, and AARP supported it.

Now, it turns out, the aggressive seniors' mar-keting lobby had an ulterior motive.

While the ink from the President's signature on the bill is still drying, AARP's leadership has mounted a campaign that can upset long-term access to affordable medicines, not only for Medicare patients but all who depend on prescription drugs to treat disease and illness.

AARP is urging Washington's lawmakers to legalize drug re-importation into the United States from Canada as well as imports from Canada and two-dozen other countries, many of them with questionable safety procedures.

AARP's plan presents a short-term danger to American seniors, including millions of minorities, who may consume the con-taminated, counterfeit and often placebo drugs that it would pour into the U.S. without the approval of our healthcare officials.

Its long-term implications (the imposition of federal price controls on all prescription medicines) are even more dangerous. If carried to AARP's ultimate conclusion, it will jeopardize drug safety, weaken scientific innovation toward finding new cures and further increase America's gaping trade deficit.

U.S. Food and Drug Admin-istration officials re-peatedly have warned about the health and safety risks from imported counterfeit, tainted or mislabeled pharmaceutical products that are not made or packaged under the same meticulous regu-latory controls that oversee drug manufacturing in this country.

Contrary to Canadian health officials' claims that prescription medicines re-imported from Canada really come from there, a 2003 Prudential Financial study indicated that Canadian Internet drug sellers increasingly obtain products from nations like Bulgaria, whose year-to-year exports to Canada increased 300 percent from 200 percent.

Pakistan's prescription drug exports to Canada jumped 196 percent in the same period and South Africa's rose 114 percent. Interestingly, the Prudential study noted that one out of every five drugs produced in South Africa is counterfeit.

It's ironic that William Novelli, AARP's president and former head of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, is among re-importation's champions. No one denies that tobacco, which is linked to cancer, emphysema, heart disease and premature death is a major human risk, but the world's remaining smokers have been well-warned.

Seniors and other Americans, on the other hand, have no idea whether they are getting genuinely safe drugs or potentially hazardous sham ones when they import uncertified medicines from north of the border. Few would want to purchase drugs from backward Third World countries, but that may well happen under Novelli's ideologically driven vision.

His plan should give AARP's 35 million members pause - especially the majority that doesn't happen to share his intense liberal dislike for free-market principles.

America's pharmaceutical industry invests $32 billion annually to create new medicines. And according to experts at Tufts University's renowned Center for the Study of Drug Development it now costs nearly $900 million to develop each new drug that receives FDA approval and moves on to your pharmacy's storage shelves.

There's little doubt among leading healthcare experts like Project Hope's Gail Wilensky that price controls on medicines will rob pharmaceutical R&D of the revenue it needs to discover the next miracle cure - perhaps for Lou Gehrig's Disease, Alzheimer's or cystic fibrosis.

Pharmaceutical innovation between 1993 and 2003 resulted in more than 363 new drugs, biologics and vaccines that now prevent and treat some 150 conditions including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes, Depression, HIV/AIDS and High Blood Pressure. Unfortunately, AARP's agenda could slow that historic progress.

AARP's passion for uncertified imports could be especially risky for an estimated 80 percent of its 35 million members who depend on prescription medicines since demand for new medicines to treat the world's aging population is rising dramatically.

Wholesale importation also erodes America's ability to create the new medicines that are vital to curbing runaway price increases by significantly reducing the high costs of hospitalization, diagnostic treatments and extended chronic care.

AARP and its political cronies on Capital Hill should reconsider a misguided legislative agenda that would, in effect, impose more regulations on an industry that leads the world in innovative healthcare advances.

American seniors deserve the safest and best medicines available; not bogus products that may jeopardize their health.


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Ak'Bar Shabazz, an Atlanta native, is President of Shabazz Enterprises and member of African-American leadership network, Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published June 2004 by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.


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