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AARP Study Examines RX Drug Importation Within European Union


Contact: AARP Media Relations, 202-434-2560,

As Congress, state, and local governments continue to debate the cost and safety of importing prescription drugs, cross-border importation between licensed wholesalers has long been taking place within the European Union. A new AARP report looks at the implications of importation in those nations.

AARP Director of Policy and Strategy John Rother said that AARP supports the idea of safe importation not as a long-term solution to the high cost of prescription drugs but as a way to put downward pressure on U.S. drug prices while assisting many people who need drugs with real savings.

The EU has three decades of experience with what is formally known as "commercial parallel trade" of pharmaceuticals between member states. Under this practice, pharmacies and wholesalers in countries with relatively high drug prices such as Germany and the United Kingdom are allowed to purchase the identical products from licensed wholesalers in EU member states with lower prices such as Spain or Greece for resale in their country. The practice is not only legal but is strongly encouraged as national policy in some EU countries, including those with a strong research-based pharmaceutical industry.

AARP's Public Policy Institute, in an effort to understand the implications of legalized commercial drug importation for the U.S., has undertaken an investigation of the EU's regulatory structure and experience with parallel trade of pharmaceuticals. The study, "Parallel Trading in Medicines: Europe's Experience and Its Implications for Commercial Drug Importation in the United States," looks at the legal provisions that allow parallel trade; evidence on the safety of imported drugs; the distribution of cost differences among consumers, health insurers, and distributors; and the impact of parallel trade on pharmaceutical research and development. The study was authored by Panos Kanavos of the London School of Economics, David Gross of AARP's Public Policy Institute, and David Taylor of the University of London.

The AARP study found:

  • No documented cases of counterfeit drug supply in the EU as a result of parallel trade of pharmaceuticals.
  • No widespread evidence of drug shortages among reporting countries.
  • Problems with repackaging, re-labeling and placement of consumer inserts in imported products exist but have not raised significant concerns among consumers and healthcare providers.
  • Cost savings to consumers and health financing systems are relatively small, in part because health insurance systems in EU countries offer consumers few if any incentives to seek lower-priced drugs and already regulate drug prices.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. We produce AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our bimonthly magazine in Spanish and English; NRTA Live & Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and our website, AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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