A bill that would establish programs in Florida to “import prescription drugs from Canada and other foreign nations” is slowly making its way through the Florida legislature. The Florida House Subcommittee on Health Quality approved HB19 this morning. But it will be a long time before Floridians can expect to see any impact from the bill.

Governor Ron DeSantis called for lawmakers to pave the way for foreign prescription drugs as a way to lower health care costs, but experts say the downside is a significant reduction in quality and safety. Under current law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration exerts strict oversight on prescription medication and consumer protection from unsafe prescription drugs imported from other countries.

But a pharmacists group testified before the committee on Tuesday morning that there is a safer alternative to dangerous foreign imports: cutting out an unneeded middleman that artificially jacks up prescription drug prices. While HB19 would add a number of “quasi-regulations” designed to give the appearance of safety to consumers, Florida’s legislature can’t regulate Canadian drug companies. That’s why many pharmacists who do business in Florida are urging lawmakers to take a different approach – one they say is safer and more effective.

Dawn Butterfield, the owner of West Cocoa Pharmacy in Cocoa, Florida, traveled to Tallahassee to tell lawmakers about what she and like-minded pharmacists see as two signficant problems with the bill: patient safety, and the fact that the bill does nothing to address the problems created by pharmacy benefit managers (PBM’s) which act as little more than middlemen to drive up costs for consumers and pharmacists alike.

“This bill is a non-starter with pharmacists,” said Butterfield. “It’s a distraction from the real problem that is causing the spike in drug prices. We’re wasting our time fighting bad and potentially unsafe legislation instead of eliminating the middleman that is costing everyone money.”

Butterfield explained that drug companies often offer rebates on specific types of drugs, but more often than not, when a pharmacy benefit manager is involved, those rebates don’t get passed to the consumer or the pharmacist.

But the bigger problem, Butterfield says, are the dangers of importing drugs from outside the United States.

Canada, for example, offered a strain of oxycontin that was significantly more addictive than the brands offered in the United States. The Canadian government was slow to react to the problem, which made an already bad opioid epidemic even worse on the Canadian side of the border.

And pharmacy advocates warn that it will be even easier for counterfeit drugs to make their way into the United States with legislation that makes it legal to import drugs from overseas.

“Patient safety and the ability for patients to afford their medication are our top priorities,” says Monique Whitney, Executive Director for Pharmacists United for Truth and Transparency (PUTT). “Importing drugs from Canada guarantees neither and will not fix the problem.”
PUTT was formed by pharmacists to expose what they say are anti-competitive tactics used by pharmacy benefits managers.
Whitney says that 90% of generic drugs in Canada’s are more expensive than in the US, and her group is hopeful that as Florida lawmakers continue to study the issue they will see that the only true solution is transparency and accountability in all parts of the prescription drug supply chain, starting with the PBM middlemen.