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
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
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
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
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@example.com.
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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