Trusted Law Enforcement Leaders Oppose Drug Importation

BIOtech Now
Brian Newell

One of the leading voices emerging in the debate over drug importation is law enforcement professionals. They realize—perhaps better than most—that allowing drugs from foreign countries to flood our communities threatens the health and safety of the American people. Adopting extreme policies that would expose American citizens to counterfeit or adulterated drugs is the wrong way to address drug costs, especially as we face a national emergency in the opioid epidemic. But don’t just take our word for it. Here is what a number of current and former law enforcement officials have said recently: 

The National Sheriff’s Association 

“[T]he National Sheriffs’ Association opposes the passage of legislative drug importation proposals which would jeopardize law enforcement’s ability to protect the public health; threaten the safety of our drug supply; and endanger law enforcement officers, their canines, and other first responders across America.” 

Louis Freeh, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation 

“I have concluded that drug importation proposals would deplete and overburden already limited resources. In particular, importation proposals would force law enforcement agencies to make tough prioritization decisions that leave the safety of the U.S. prescription drug supply vulnerable to criminals seeking to harm patients.

“Additionally, with illegal drug traffickers producing and distributing fake opioids, including fentanyl laced with other drugs that contribute to a national crisis worsening by the day, it is my strong belief that any efforts on the part of our elected officials should focus on improving and enhancing existing law enforcement capacities to prevent potentially-dangerous products from entering the U.S. drug supply in the first instance.”

Bill McCollum, former attorney general of Florida 

“Opening the door to increased prescription drug importation will just make it easier for smugglers to ship this dangerous opioid [fentanyl] into the United States. For years, we have asked police officers and prosecutors to do more with less. There are few signs that austerity will end. Changing laws to encourage importation of drugs would only add to that burden. Regardless of one’s views on addressing the cost of drugs, hopefully we can all agree that exacerbating the opioid crisis is not an outcome we want.” 

George Karavetsos, former director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations and Assistant United States Attorney 

“[S]ome federal lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make it legal to import drugs that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration into the United States from questionable sources. Such legislation would provide a gateway for international criminal organizations to import counterfeit prescription drugs and deadly illegal opioids, including fentanyl. In the midst of a worsening opioid epidemic, now is not the time to relax drug importation laws.”

Of course, law enforcement officials are not the only ones to come out in opposition to drug importation because of the safety risks it poses to patients. Earlier this year, four former FDA commissioners—who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations—urged Congress to reject the idea, stating:

“Importation proposals seek to make lower-cost but genuine, safe and effective drugs available to U.S. consumers, however this is not such a straightforward task. In fact, we believe that such importation represents a complex and risky approach—one that the evidence shows will not achieve the aim, and that is likely to harm patients and consumers and compromise the carefully constructed system that guards the safety of our nation’s medical products.”

And here is what Bob Barchiesi, president of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition recently noted:

“Congress has a responsibility to protect the public it serves. Once we take down our carefully crafted, secure protections and open the floodgates to counterfeiters, there will be tragic consequences that our law enforcement and regulatory agencies do not have the resources to prevent.

“We’ve already seen a glimpse of the impact that counterfeit drugs can have on our lives and our communities. If Congress opens our doors to importation, we will be faced with a global threat which we simply aren’t prepared to adequately address.” 

Policymakers should heed the concerns of these trusted experts and reject any scheme that would allow unsafe prescription drugs to flow across our borders. Instead, we should pursue commonsense reforms to tackle drug costs, like accelerating the approval of generic drugs and embracing value-based pricing that rewards outcomes over volume. A coalition of drugmakers, insurers, employers, consumer advocates, and others have coalesced around these reforms, and policymakers should too. As BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood wrote in STAT News:

“Let’s not take a step back by undermining the basic safety of those groundbreaking treatments. Instead, we should move forward together on responsible solutions that will promote greater access to affordable medicines while still protecting patient safety.”

To learn more about the consequences of drug importation, visit

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