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In 1976, reggae legend, Peter Tosh, released his song “Legalize It” – calling for the legalization of marijuana. In it, he sings “legalize it, don’t criticize it.” Needless to say, that’s already becoming our reality in the U.S. where, to varying degrees, many states have made pot legal. The federal government has begrudgingly accepted dissension in the ranks of states. Yes, there are rumblings that under Attorney General Jeff Sessions things are going to change. We’ll see.

This week, journalist and pharmaceutical industry analyst, Ed Silverman, from Stat News, published an opinion article called “It’s time to make it legal for Americans to order prescription drugs from abroad.” Unlike the downpour of op-eds against importation sponsored by drug companies, Silverman has no financial interest in this.

To be intellectually honest, Silverman’s call to action is qualified. He seems to be saying to “legalize it,” but he’s not necessarily advising that we not “criticize it.” There are real threats from counterfeit and otherwise substandard drugs that need to be addressed in reforming the law. Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, professor of medicine at Harvard, offers his own thoughts in Silverman’s piece: “We should be able to address this safety issue…To not have the conversation and instead say there’s no way to import medicines safely is a cop-out.”

Drug importation is not actually illegal in the U.S., writes Silverman. How can it be when – according to the FDA – 40% of medications sold in U.S. pharmacies are imported and 80% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients that make up so-called “American medications” are foreign? But that distribution is tightly controlled by those who benefit from the higher costs charged in the U.S. compared to internationally for the same prescription drugs.

I think Silverman’s even larger qualification here is that inaction is unacceptable. The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act of 2017, closely associated with its sponsor Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), would move us in the right direction, but Silverman believes that particular bill is “going nowhere fast.” As the article notes, millions of Americans already import medication for personal use, despite the prohibitions. He writes: “it is time to scrap this prohibition, unless Congress finds another way to drive down costs.”’s international drug price reporting and pharmacy verification role is mentioned by Silverman, but he doesn’t substantively delve into the reality of safe personal drug importation as it occurs today via verified international online pharmacies. For journalists and consumers who would like to learn more – let’s talk!

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