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Survey Says Two Million US Adults Import Drugs without Prescriptions

Washington, DC (June 25)—More than five million US adults import prescription drugs from other countries, two million of them without an official prescription, according to a survey conducted by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Concerned about the number of counterfeit drugs entering the US, PhRMA launched the survey to determine who was importing prescription drugs and why.

The survey shows that importers tend to be under 35, a bit younger than nonimporters, and are more likely to be Hispanic and come from southern border states than are nonimporters. Contrary to popular wisdom, adults purchasing drugs from other countries do carry health insurance. Approximately 85% of the importers have policies for prescription drug insurance. However, importers typically spend more money out of pocket on prescription drugs during a 12-month period than do their nonimporting counterparts. Seventy-one percent of importers with medical coverage said their prescription-drug benefit was insufficient to cover their needs. In spite of these statistics, and quite unexpectedly, the survey also demonstrated that one in five importers has an annual income of $100,000 or more.

The top reason for drug importation was, not surprisingly, price, a motivator for more than 85% of the importers. More surprising, about half the importers lacked prescriptions for the drugs they wanted. The prescription drugs most often imported include drugs for infections requiring antibiotics, pain, allergies, hypertension, digestive problems, and high cholesterol.

While Canada is the single leading country exporting drugs to the United States, Canadian drugs account for less than half of all drugs coming from overseas. The majority of drugs came from other countries, or the importers were uncertain as to the country of origin of their imports.

In a statement published on the PhRMA website, the organization's President and CEO, Billy Tauzin said, "This study further confirms what the Food and Drug Administration has been saying all along—millions of Americans are circumventing the system and going to other sources to buy their medicine because they do not have a doctor's prescription for the medicine they want. Alarmingly, this behavior increases an individual's risk to being exposed to dangerous counterfeit medicines." -Michelle Hoffman


Sanofi Pasteur and MedImmune Awarded Contracts for Flu Vaccine Facilities

Washington, DC (June 14)—The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded two contracts totaling $132.5 million to Sanofi Pasteur (Lyon, France) and MedImmune (Gaithersburg, MD) to retrofit their influenza-vaccine manufacturing facilities. Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the Sanofi-Aventis Group (Paris), received a $77.4-million contract and plans to contribute an additional $25 million, and MedImmune was awarded $55.1 million and plans to contribute an additional $14 million. The overall project includes design, retrofit, and facility maintenance so that the companies can switch to pandemic influenza-vaccine manufacture upon a request from the government.

Sanofi plans to begin the design phase immediately, with the retrofit starting as soon as the new influenza-vaccine manufacturing facility is operational and licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (Rockville, MD). The company's existing facility will be phased out and decommissioned for the retrofit. Once both facilities are validated, the company's capacity will increase threefold.

The contracts are part of HHS's Pandemic Preparedness Plan, which was issued in November 2005 and outlines public-health preparedness and response activities for an influenza pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (Geneva), 1–2.3 billion hospitalizations and 280,000–650,000 deaths could occur in the next influenza pandemic in industrialized nations alone. HHS hopes to stockpile enough prepandemic influenza vaccine for 20 million people. -Angie Drakulich


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