By Don Bell

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As neighbors in the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Oregon have much in common. We once even shared a common land, until the Oregon Treaty of 1846 established the U.S.-Canadian border, settling a long-standing dispute. We now find ourselves again in a dispute over boundaries, as Oregon politicians attempt to raid the Canadian prescription drug supply, even if that is accompanied by significant public health risks for Canadians and Oregonians.

For over 30 years, I have worked in Canadian law enforcement and border protection. I was a chief superintendent of the Ontario Provincial Police and a director of intelligence and enforcement for the Canada Border Services Agency. While Canada’s pharmaceutical supply chain is very safe, it was built to ensure the safety of Canada’s domestic consumption. It is not the duty of Health Canada to protect or ensure the safety of prescription drugs for the United States.

Legalizing importation will create a dangerous loophole that criminals will exploit to smuggle counterfeit medicine into Oregon.

Furthermore, Canada is not prepared to protect Oregonians from this risk.

Canadian health authorities, border services and law enforcement are neither resourced nor structured to guarantee the safety of the transnational drug shipments importation would authorize.

This does not question the dedication or working relationship of Canadian and U.S. law enforcement and border protection services. It is simply a matter of resources. Canadian authorities cannot be expected to prioritize the inspection of shipments that are transshipped through Canada into the United States. While recognizing our global responsibilities, Canadian resources must be appropriated to secure the Canadian drug supply, not foreign export shipments.

Most importantly, Canada can’t be the pharmacy of the United States. Canada is already been experiencing significant drug shortages and has for over for a decade.

Canada has over 1,000 drug shortages annually, affecting 1,250 products in the most recent three-year period, or at least 10% of all active drugs available in Canada; moreover, many of these shortages are on the most commonly prescribed generics. Importation programs as proposed by Oregon politicians will exacerbate these shortages. Health Canada is not likely to send medicine in short supply to Oregon before taking care of its own citizens.

What do these drug shortages mean for Oregon?

Importation would create a demand that cannot be filled with genuine Canadian prescription drugs. Criminals will exploit the lack of supply and transship, or smuggle adulterated, substandard and counterfeit drugs, through Canada into Oregon. They will claim to be Canadian drugs, but they will not have been subject to the quality assurance of the Canadian supply chain. They may never even touch Canadian soil.

From my experience in law enforcement, I know that criminal networks are ready to pounce at this opportunity. Criminal organizations, such as the Hells Angels are already the benefactor of importation loopholes, as evidenced in the devastating opioid crisis. These high profit and low risk criminal enterprises will have a devastating impact on our communities.

I can appreciate the sense of urgency and the appeal of short-term solutions to complex issues. However, attempting to implement a prescription drug importation program, which has already failed many times in other states and which effectively raids Canada’s prescription drug supply, is not the appropriate solution to drug pricing issues Oregon is experiencing, but rather create a new dispute over boundaries.

— Don Bell is the retired chief superintendent of the Ontario Provincial Police, Orillia, Ontario, Canada.

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