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New FL Legislation Allowing Prescription Drug Imports from Canada Awaits Governor's Signature


A controversial bill (HB 19) that would allow for the importation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada into Florida now sits on Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk.

The drug import program would still need federal approval, but opponents of the bill, like Drug Enforcement (DEA) Agent Steve Murphy, have raised concerns about the safety of the drugs coming from Canada. “This just scared be to death,” Murphy said Monday on Sundial. Proponents of the legislation argue it will allow Floridians to access prescription drugs at a significantly reduced prices. 

On Wednesday, Sundial host Luis Hernandez and WLRN reporter Caitie Switalski spoke to the chief sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Thomas Leek of Ormond Beach.

WLRN: What is this law suppose to do for Floridians?

LEEK: There are two components. The first component is one -- actually already enacted by Congress in 2003 called the Medicaid Modernization Act. It allows the state in any of the state controlled entities that fund health care for Floridians to import safe effective drugs from Canada through the same means that the drug manufacturers are doing now. The second program has not been authorized by federal law yet and that's an international importation program, which would allow that same benefit to extend to individual consumers.

Just to be clear, the federal government has to say yes. How confident are you of that? -- And to note, no other state has gotten permission to do this.

We feel good about it. So I've had conversations with the governor. The governor has talked to President Trump. President Trump has said he thinks that this is the right idea. Here's the issue: You've got to take the stranglehold that the drug manufacturers have on our prescription drug prices away from them and this is one of the opportunities to do it. We have every confidence that President Trump is going to get HHS to approve our program.

There's a part of the bill that could move forward in the form of a pilot program. Can you explain what that would be like?

Keep in mind that there are a number of safeguards along the way here including the pilot program. And so the safeguards that we have in play requiring HHS approval, requiring the drugs to be from a manufacturing facilities that are either directly approved by the FDA or through which the FDA has approved their practices already, by all of those things staying in place and the pilot program then implements the broader program but on a smaller scale. .

You've heard concerns from the opposition of counterfeit drugs getting into the country. Are there other fail-safes in addition to the pilot program?

Well, counterfeit drugs are a red herring. Right, it's a real issue, but for purposes of this program that's a red herring. Let me just tell you, you haven't lived until you've had Big Pharma come after you. Counterfeit drugs are a problem today and counterfeit drugs are drugs being brought into the country illegally. This program doesn't affect whether those drugs are brought into the country illegally and it doesn't affect whether they're brought into the country legally. What it does is open up the current legal channels for importation to benefit consumers as well as the drug manufacturers.

The things that we're talking about doing today are being done. They're being done right now. The problem is that instead of allowing free market principles to apply here we've created a horizontal monopoly for drug manufacturers so that the drugs that they're bringing in today, only they, the original drug manufacturer, get the benefit of that lower price. We want to extend that benefit to consumers as well.

Obviously you've heard the argument from your opposition -- there is a danger here. Last year a Canadian pharmaceutical company was fined for importing counterfeit cancer drugs. How do we guarantee the fail-safe on their side?

Well, so that's a great example. This program is not in place and a Canadian pharmacy was fined for breaking the law, by the way. We've also had U.S. pharmacies fined for breaking the law. That's my point. It doesn't relate to this program as it relates to a broader issue that we have with regard to safety of medications coming in. But this program doesn't make it any more safe or less safe. What this program does is pass that benefit on to the consumer.

Read More: 'This Just Scared Me To Death,' Says DEA Agent About Proposed Prescription Drug Bill

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.