If U.S. Food and Drug Administration has evidence that imported medicines -- even those that bear the same names as the ones sold in this country -- are contaminated with impure or unknown ingredients, it has a responsibility to immediately make that evidence public.
If, on the other hand, the agency is merely trying to scare Americans away from buying cheaper drugs from Canada, Congress must intervene.
The fact that at least 2 million personal shipments of drugs crossed the nation's borders last year suggests to us that for many Americans such commerce is a life-sustaining necessity. The FDA should not interfere unless it can prove that imported drugs are putting lives in jeopardy.
But as Congressman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, noted recently, "There's never been one shred of evidence, in my committee or anywhere else, that the Canadian drug safety process is not as rigorous as ours." Brown is the ranking member of the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He has long championed the cause of the 40 million Americans who do not have health care coverage and has pushed for a prescription drug provision under Medicare.
Brown has also advocated codifying the rights of Americans to buy medicines from Canada. Currently, such purchases are technically illegal, although the FDA has not moved to prosecute such consumers.
Until now, that is.
Last week, the agency informed an Arkansas mail-order drug company that it is illegally importing cheaper medicines from Canada, a move many see as a first step in an expected crackdown on the booming Internet and mail-order business that provides Americans with the medicines they need without their having to leave the country.
But Rx Depot has pledged to fight the action in court. President Carl Moore contends that his company is providing a crucial service for hundreds of customers around the country who otherwise could not afford treatment.
"We're very opinionated and impassioned about what we're doing and why we're doing it, and we're not going anywhere," Moore vows. He explains that his customers are shipped drugs from a licensed Canadian pharmacy, in the same packages as U.S. manufacturers sell them in the U.S., so there are no safety concerns.
Congressional Democrats have urged the FDA not to block consumers from buying Canadian drugs.
For his part, Congressman Brown, who once represented a portion of Trumbull County, accuses the Bush administration of bowing to pharmaceutical companies that provided tens of millions of campaign dollars.
For us, this issue transcends politics. It's about Americans not being able to afford prescription drugs sold in this country and, therefore, being forced to look elsewhere for their life-sustaining medicines.
Absent such an option, people on limited income who don't qualify for Medicaid will have to choose between food and medicine. No one should have to make such a choice.
The president and Congress must act to reduce the cost of prescription medicines sold in this country. Lives are at stake.