HHS to study how to make drug imports safe

The Health and Human Services Department has created a task force to determine how to safely import prescription drugs and to assess their impact on patient health, medical costs and development of new medicines, HHS secretary Tommy Thompson said today. Technology will likely be employed in any strategy to ensure drug safety.

The task force will collect information from a variety of health care stakeholders and develop recommendations. The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, which Congress passed in November, directs HHS to complete a study on drug importation by December.

'The importation of drugs remains a long-standing safety concern for the Department of Health and Human Services, as we currently cannot guarantee the safety of these medicines,' Thompson said. The task force will identify strategies that could permit safe importation.

Among the strategies, HHS will assess the pharmaceutical distribution chain and how to modify it to assure the safety of imported products. Anti-counterfeiting technologies could improve product safety in both the domestic and international markets. The task force also will estimate the costs shouldered by drug distributors to use anti-counterfeiting technologies.

The use of prescription drug imports is becoming a high-profile subject as state and local governments try to reduce health care costs. Minnesota and Wisconsin, and cities in Massachusetts and Alabama, have begun importing or giving their residents access to drugs from Canada. And an Illinois couple filed a federal lawsuit today against the federal government to force it to let states and individuals import prescription drugs from Canada.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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