Timothy Lee

In reality, America’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies invest literally billions of dollars each year to invent and perfect new medicines that save lives and allow Americans to live more comfortably, longer, and healthier.  There is not a single person in America who hasn’t benefited personally from these remarkable innovations, or has family members or friends who have. 

And while importation of drugs may superficially sound like a good idea, it is actually quite pernicious.  Especially at a time when America’s trade deficit receives so much hysteria from politicians and the mainstream media. 

For starters, importation of foreign drugs will flood the market with dangerous counterfeit knockoffs from across the globe.  As tragically illustrated by recent stories of contaminated lead-paint toys, toothpastes, dog food and other products, this is a potentially serious problem.  Further, even drugs imported from such countries as Canada often themselves originate from places like Pakistan, Bulgaria, Argentina and South Africa.  This inherent safety risk precisely explains why every single Food & Drug Administration commissioner since 1969 has opposed importation. 

Second, importation will undermine American medical innovation.  The pharmaceutical industry remains one in which America continues to lead the world.  It creates revolutionary life-saving and life-improving drugs, but this requires gigantic up-front investments of money, time and research.  In 2006 alone, pharmaceutical innovators invested an estimated $55 billion in such research and development, and provided millions of valuable jobs.  If our nation’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies suddenly cannot recoup their investments due to a flood of foreign counterfeits and artificially-discounted drugs, the reward for investing in innovation will wither along with thousands of high-paying and high-tech jobs.  Obviously, this is hardly the time to be taking such a risk. 

Third, allowing importation of foreign drugs will exacerbate our current litigation and “jackpot justice” crisis facing America and the healthcare industry.  If pharmaceutical companies, pharmacists, hospitals and physicians are suddenly exposed to even more lawsuits because opportunistic trial lawyers blame them for harm caused by foreign counterfeits or knockoffs, healthcare costs and crippling runaway litigation will only skyrocket further. 

Fourth, legalizing importation of foreign drugs will only increase the already-overburdened FDA’s caseload.  In doing so, the FDA’s ability to protect American consumers’ safety will be further undermined. 

Simply put, there is already too much regulation and persecution of the pharmaceutical industry, not too little.  Allowing importations to flood the market and gain a free ride on the backs of American pharmaceutical innovators will only undermine this critical enterprise. 

Senator McCain, please reconsider your slur against America’s invaluable pharmaceutical industry, and renounce your ill-advised position toward it and importation of foreign drugs.  One irresponsible class-warrior candidate in the style of John Edwards is more than enough. 

Timothy Lee

Timothy Lee is the director of legal and public affairs at the Center for Individual Freedom, a free-market and constitutional advocacy organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.

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