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What's Wrong with Importing Drugs from Canada?

December 15, 2003

This 74-page booklet presents the views of eight experts on drug importation based on presentations made at a conference hosted by The Heartland Institute in October, 2003.

Book cover: What's Wrong with Importing Drugs from Canada

On October 23, 2003, The Heartland Institute hosted, with cosponsors Illinois Retail Merchants Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Illinois Manufacturers Association, a national symposium on drug importation. The proceedings are published here.

Approximately 80 people attended the symposium over the course of the day, including state legislators, pharmacists, small business owners, trade association lobbyists, the president of a drug importation business, and at least one member of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s staff. Lively question and answer sessions followed each of three panels.

Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, delivered opening remarks. He explained the symposium was prompted by a proposal in the state of Illinois to import drugs from Canada and other countries:

The State of Illinois is interested in drug importation because it spends a lot of money on prescription drugs: about $340 million a year on its own employees and its retirees and approximately $1.5 billion each year on Medicaid, for a total of $1.8 billion a year. So, under the direction of Gov. Blagojevich, the state is looking for ways to reduce its spending on prescription drugs. One way under consideration is to import less-expensive drugs from Canada and other countries.

The symposium's speakers and topics were:

  • Illinois state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, "Not a Solution to State Budget Problems"
  • David Miller, iBIO, "The Danger of Unknown and Unknowable Costs"
  • Stephen J. Entin, Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation (IRET), "The Dubious Economics of Drug Importation"
  • John R. Graham, Fraser Institute, "A Canadian Economist's Perspective"
  • Illinois state Sen. Chris Lauzen, "Don't Just Stand There, Do Something!"
  • Grace-Marie Turner, The Galen Institute, "Costs, Compulsory Licensing, and Counterfeiting"
  • Sean Heather, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "It's Really about Spending, Not Safety"
  • Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute, "The Pros and Cons of Drug Importation"

The book includes two appendices:

  • Appendix 1: Blagojevich's $91 Million Mistake
  • Appendix 2: Letter from the FDA to Illinois

In his concluding remarks, Bast summarized, "The speakers at this conference gave us a good idea of the depth of this issue. It is not simple. Over the course of the day, I heard seven good reasons why we should import drugs from Canada, and eight good reasons why we should not."

Joseph Bast is a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute. He cofounded Heartland in 1984, serving as executive director then as president & CEO until January 2018. His research and writing focuses on climate change and energy policy. @JosephLBast
Diane Carol Bast is a former member of The Heartland Institute's board of directors.