Senate Restricts Entry of Cheap Foreign Medications

May 07, 2007 01:17 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Drugs made outside the United States must meet stringent safety standards––a stricture that, say critics, hobbles legislation that would have improved access to cheaper, foreign pharmaceuticals.

30-Second Summary

Brand-name prescription drugs cost as much as 70 percent more in the United States than in other countries.

May 7––The Senate altered legislation that would have increased access to those cheaper foreign medications. The amendment, which passed in a 49–40 vote, requires that imported prescription drugs meet the same safety standards as U.S.-made pharmaceuticals.

Supporters of the safety amendment argue that the original bill, the Dorgan–Snowe legislation (s. 2328), would have exposed U.S. patients to dangerous drugs. Under the amended law, imports will have to be tested, and also be shown to be cheaper than domestically produced alternatives.

Opponents of the amendment, such as bill-sponsor Sen Byron Dorgan (D–ND), assert that the legislation is being changed to benefit the big pharmaceutical corporations. These critics say that by creating impossibly stringent approval regulations, senators have effectively blocked the importation of foreign drugs.

The FDA approves of the amendment. But its judgment has come into question after it approved the anti-arthritis drug Vioxx, a medication withdrawn from sale in 2004 when it was shown to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. 


Reference Material

Critics of the Safety Amendment

Sen. Byron Dorgan

Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), sponsor of the original legislation, asked the Senate if it’s fair that “the American people [are] paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs? The answer is, no; it is not fair.”
Sen. Olympia Snowe

Republican Senator from Maine Olympia Snowe co-sponsored the original legislation. Commenting on the amendment’s impact, Snowe told the Senate that the additional regulations made importation “an impossible thing. If Congress wants to import drugs, they should take that provision out.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also supported the Dorgan–Snowe legislation, saying on the Senate floor that “this amendment will mean that Americans from one end of our country to the other, people with chronic illnesses, senior citizens . . . that finally these Americans . . . will no longer continue to be ripped off by the pharmaceutical industry.”

Supporters of the Safety Amendment

Sen. Thad Cochran

Republican Senator from Mississippi Thad Cochran introduced the second-degree safety amendment, saying on the Senate floor that Sen. Dorgan’s original act would “put in jeopardy the process we now have to ensure the safety of prescription medications and protect the health of the American people.”
Sen. Mike Enzi

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) was a staunch supporter of Sen. Cochran’s amendment, saying in a press release that Dorgan’s act would “put patient lives at risk. I urge my colleagues to oppose it.”

The White House

The Food and Drug Administration

Health and Human Services Task Force


Related Links


The FDA came under fire in 2004 when a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) it had approved was withdrawn from the market. Vioxx was primarily used to treat arthritis. However, it was found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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