Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'This Just Scared Me To Death,' Says DEA Agent About Proposed Prescription Drug Bill

A bill currently being considered by the Florida Legislature would allow for prescription drugs to be imported at a discounted price from Canada.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, on average  Americans spend $1,200 a year on prescription drugs, which is more than any other developed country in the world.

Florida House Bill 19, sponsored by Republican Rep. Thomas Leek, would potentially reduce costs by allowing for prescription drugs to be imported at a discounted price from Canada. The bill has recently gotten the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s made it a priority. However, the bill has also seen strong opposition from groups like Partnership for Safe Medicine, which is concerned about not having enough oversight and causing screening and safety problems.

"This is just opening the door to more abuse and more safety issues for Americans," says Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Steve Murphy, who is working with Partnership for Safe Medicine. Murphy joined Sundial to make a case against the bill. Note: Sundial will be speaking with Leek on Wednesday.

WLRN: This opens up the opportunity now for drugs to come in from a lot of other places. Do we [the U.S] have a screening process?

MURPHY: Under FDA [Food and Drug Administration] authorization there is [in the U.S.)], but coming through Canada there is not. Basically here's what happens: The prescription medications are not going to come from Canada. Canada's just used as a transshipment point. What we've seen in the past, there's been seven states that have already tried this. What happens is, let's say the drugs come from India, Pakistan, China or Mexico... when they come into Canada, Canada has no responsibilities whatsoever to test these drugs to see if they're legitimately what they say they are. They're simply a transshipment point, meaning that [drugs] just come into Canada and [are] shipped straight into the United States. Now we have a friend in Canada, Don Bell, who's the retired superintendent for the Ontario Provincial Police. He has personally told us Canadians have no laws that require them to do that, they have no moral obligation nor do they have the resources and manpower to check those medications or to check that where they're coming from are legitimate pharmaceutical companies. Basically we're on our own when we accept these supposed medications coming in from whatever country they happen to come from.

You're concerned that because there isn't going to be any oversight that anything coming across the border could be dangerous, worthless or could just be placebos.

Exactly. And we have documented cases where this has happened. In the seven states [in the U.S.] that have tried this program before, what we've seen is within a very short amount of time when the medications were tested here in the United States we found out that, one, they contain no active ingredient for whatever  the medical issue is or it has reduced active ingredient, which makes it worthless, or heaven forbid we found adulterous [fake] medication within those medications. Did you know right now there are 46 states in the United States that we found counterfeit prescriptions coming into those states? Twenty-nine of those states have had deaths because of fentanyl being the ingredient that was added to it. This just scares me to death. This epidemic is just going crazy and this is just opening the door to more abuse and more safety issues for Americans.

How can we reduce the cost for patients? You have your issues with this bill, but what do you say to Floridians?

And that's the $64 question. I don't purport to be an expert in this. I am an expert in criminal organizations and that's what I see the potential is here. God bless our Americans that are having financial issues....I'm not going against you, but we should never risk the safety of our citizens to save a few bucks.

Do you think targeting the suppliers instead of the users is the best way to go?

I think sometimes when we get into these discussions we're looking for a single answer to solve the problem and there isn't a single answer. Unfortunately the United States is the leading consumer in the world when it comes to recreational drugs [illegal narcotics], not a reputation that we're proud of, but it's the truth. The Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to attack [prescription drugs] from every angle. We can say we took out the Medellin [drug] cartel and others...If you look at [this issue] from a business perspective, you're looking at the basic element of business "supply versus demand." We need to really address the demand issue here in the United States more heavily than we're doing now.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Alejandra Martinez is the associate producer for WLRN&rsquo's Sundial. Her love for radio started at her mother’s beauty shop where she noticed that stories are all around her - important stories to tell.
Chris Remington knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.