Peter Pitts — Peter J. Pitts is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA associate commissioner. The views expressed are his own. –

On Thursday, as part of the Department of Homeland Security funding bill, the Senate voted to make us less secure by allowing Americans to purchase prescription drugs from Canada over the Internet. The measure is now headed to conference, where House and Senate lawmakers will hammer out a final piece of legislation.

When he introduced the measure to his fellow Senators, Louisiana Republican David Vitter described it as a “re-importation amendment.” And over the next few weeks, as lawmakers deliberate on this, you’re likely to hear that phrase quite a bit. Supporters of foreign drug importation believe that such wording makes this policy more palatable to the American public.

After all, the implication of the term “re-importation” is that once the ban is lifted, U.S. manufacturers will export their drugs to foreign distributors, which will, in turn, sell back those exact same drugs to us.

Brand-name pharmaceuticals found abroad tend to be significantly cheaper than they are in the States, largely because foreign governments impose stringent price controls on most drug sales.
Advocates claim that “re-importation” will allow American patients to benefit from this price disparity.