Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson's office says, in what appears to be a major shift in policy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has started seizing individuals' prescription drugs ordered from pharmacies outside the United States.
According to the Senior U.S. Senator from Florida, the agency has also reportedly raided at least nine Central Florida storefront locations that store owners say operate simply to help older Floridians order their prescription drugs online at a much cheaper price.
While the importation of prescription drugs is illegal under most circumstances, the federal government announced in 2006 that it would stop seizing small amounts of prescription drugs from pharmacies in Canada.
The policy, which was put in place at the urging of Senator Nelson and others, has allowed U.S. residents, mainly seniors, to save on the cost of their prescription drugs by ordering them online from pharmacies in Canada, instead of filling them at pharmacies in the U.S.
Nelson's office says he is demanding answers in what appears to be a sudden change in that policy.
"I appreciate that we need to keep dangerous drugs like fentanyl and counterfeit pharmaceuticals out of our country, but many of my constituents are confused about why they are suddenly receiving a seizure notice instead of their necessary medication - if there has been no change in policy," Nelson wrote in a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
Nelson added that, to the best of his knowledge, no new FDA policies have been publicly announced or shared with Congress.
Nelson's office says the senator first got involved in the issue in 2004, when he sent a similar letter to the heads of the FDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection after the government seized an elderly Florida couple's medication ordered from Canada.
Two years later, records show that, at Nelson’s request, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee launched an investigation into the custom department's seizure of prescription drugs purchased for personal use from pharmacies outside the U.S.
Later that same year, Nelson, along with Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, filed legislation, which Congress passed and the president signed into law, that allowed Americans crossing the Canadian border to bring back small amounts of prescription drugs.
Shortly after Nelson’s bill was approved, Customs announced in Oct. 2006 that it would no longer seize individuals' prescription drugs purchased from pharmacies outside the United States.
That same year, Nelson said he received assurances from the FDA that it, too, would no longer act on small amounts of prescription drugs being imported into the U.S. for individual use.
Despite the agency's 2006 announcement, some Floridians have reportedly received notices in the past couple of months indicating that their prescription drugs are being held at their local post office at the request of the FDA.
Around that same time, the FDA reportedly raided at least nine Central Florida storefronts designed to help customers, mainly seniors, buy their prescription drugs online.
Nelson says if there has been a change in policy, he urges the FDA to make a swift announcement about it.