The exceedingly high prices of prescription drugs in the United States isn’t new to policy makers and regulators.
Currently, a two-pack of Epipens tops the international market price at $608.61, compared to $210.21 in Germany, $181.81 in Canada, $98.68 in France and as low as $69 in the United Kingdom. Individuals with sensitivities to allergens must purchase this prescription drug or else they put their lives in danger.
I am one of these individuals. I find myself trying to “walk off” my allergic reactions to avoid using my expensive EpiPen and traveling to the emergency room for an even larger bill. This scenario is just one issue in a myriad of high-priced prescription drug costs inhibiting users from acquiring and using prescription drugs they need.
Why does it matter to you? Chances are you, a family member or someone you know has been affected by the high prices of prescription drugs in the U.S. or will be in the future.
Who drives the market for these prices and how are they regulated? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the central operating power behind this stark reality. The current infrastructure of the market only allows for the manufacturing and distribution of American-made pharmaceuticals. Drugs such as EpiPens have a captive market and no guaranteed profit margin, with high costs of entry keeping competitors from entering the market.
The FDA is known for its strict regulations and high-quality standards on U.S. manufactured pharmaceuticals. However, under the Trump Administration, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in July 2018, created a working committee to explore policy options to import certain prescription drugs from outside the U.S.
Under exploration criteria, imported drugs would have to be currently produced by a single U.S. manufacturer and would enter the market as generic competition. The FDA hopes this will stimulate market-based price competition by introduced more products into the generic market.
In January 2019, the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2019 was introduced in the Senate and tabled to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The bill seeks to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to allow personal importation of safe and affordable drugs from approved pharmacies in Canada that meet all requirements and guidelines outlined by the FDA for current drugs.
The passing of this bill could have considerable benefits and will move prescription drug pricing in the right direction. Holding Canadian factories to the same standards as U.S. factories will allow for equal quality of production. Furthermore, specifying guidelines to drugs made in Canada under U.S. standards, rather than allowing drugs to just be imported from Canada, will avoid further international safety concerns.
Safety concerns continue to raise the strongest opposition to importation from Canada, but the FDA’s focus continues to be maintaining standards of quality. As with every market, loopholes in the system already prevail. Current pharmaceuticals in the U.S. contain compounds from China, India and other countries around the world. Additionally, many of the U.S. pharmaceutical companies are currently operating in Canada to avoid certain tax requirements.
Regardless of these issues, we must get behind current state and federal efforts toward this end and work to allow the importation of safe, clinically effective and affordable drugs from Canada and elsewhere. Despite FDA Commissioner Gottlieb’s decision to leave the agency in March 2019, current legislation shows optimistic efforts to improve consumer access, and hopefully my own, to important and necessary drugs.