Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Guest Post From Dr. Barry Denton on Drug Importation

Washington is Poised to Make Kentucky's Opioid Crisis Worse

Drug overdoses are skyrocketing in Kentucky. Staff at the St. Elizabeth hospital system in the northern part of the state revive six opioid overdose victims every day.[1] Twice as many Kentuckians are dying of overdoses as car accidents.[2]

Incredibly, politicians in Washington are pushing a bill that would make the crisis even worse.

The proposed law, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, would legalize the importation of medicines from Canada.[3]

Proponents argue that the bill would save patients money by allowing them to buy cheaper prescription drugs from abroad. In reality, those "cheaper" medicines could come at the price of hundreds of Kentuckians' lives. Many unscrupulous pharmacies will jump at the chance to make a few bucks by sending painkillers to Americans without requiring prescriptions. The bill would also seriously strain law enforcement's ability to intercept illegal drugs.

Kentuckians' drug addictions often begin with prescription pain pills. In the last three months of 2016, Kentucky residents filled prescriptions for more than 17 million doses of oxycodone and 36 million doses of hydrocodone.[4] In just one year, Clay County residents filled enough prescriptions to provide every resident -- including children -- with 150 doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone.[5]

Many of these pills wind up on the black market, fueling people's addictions. And when addicts can't find or afford prescription painkillers, they often turn to heroin.

Heroin is dangerous enough on its own -- but now, drug dealers are lacing heroin with fentanyl,[6] a deadly synthetic opioid that's 100 times more potent than morphine.[7] Some strains of fentanyl are so potent that Narcan, a lifesaving shot used to resuscitate overdose victims, doesn't work.[8]

One-third of Kentucky overdose deaths involve fentanyl.[9]

Legalizing prescription drug importation would make it easier for dealers to obtain massive quantities of illicit pain pills, heroin, and fentanyl. 

Even though it's illegal, some Americans already import prescription drugs. Many order from online Canadian pharmacies, some of which don't even require prescriptions.[10] Fortunately, authorities are sometimes able to intercept these shipments, which often contain spoiled, counterfeit, or illegal substances.

If the bill passes, many Americans would start ordering medicines from foreign pharmacies without realizing that those drugs lack the gold standard of approval from the Food and Drug Administration There'd be little stopping a drug dealer from buying opioids in bulk to resell to vulnerable addicts. And the sheer volume of shipments makes it unlikely that law enforcement would be able to stop this trafficking.

Legalized importation wouldn't just result in pain pills flooding into Kentucky -- it could also allow drug dealers to bring in pure fentanyl. Canadian authorities have warned that they don't inspect drugs that are imported from abroad, routed through Canada, and then reshipped to America.[11] The FDA also has no way to inspect or vet these imports.[12]

In other words, fentanyl-producing labs in China could ship large quantities of the drug to America via Canada. It'd be difficult for health authorities and law enforcement to distinguish between packages containing legitimate prescriptions and those containing deadly opioids.

Kentucky's cops and first responders already are stretched thin dealing with overdoses. The last thing they need is for federal lawmakers to make it even easier to obtain dangerous drugs. Senators Sanders may sincerely believe importation would help lower drug costs. But the price paid in human lives would be far too steep.

Dr. Barry D. Denton
Retired Police Sergeant – Louisville Metro Police Department


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