Homeland Security seizing medications from elderly, former Customs official reports
Bill Conroy | February 7 2006
Are grandma and grandpa now the newest targets in an expanding war on drugs?
An operation allegedly under way in Miami -- supposedly being spearheaded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) -- seems to indicate that elderly folks are indeed in the dragnet zone.
As part of that operation, CBP, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is seizing Canadian shipments of legally prescribed drugs that are being flown into the international mail facility at Miami International Airport, according to Mark Conrad, a retired U.S. Customs supervisory special agent.
Conrad, now an attorney, serves as the associate general counsel for the National Association of Federal Agents. He says the information about the seizure program was brought to his attention by a whistleblower, who does not want to go public out of fear of retaliation.
Officials from CBP’s public affairs office in South Florida did not return a phone call seeking comment on the operation.
The medications being seized, Conrad adds, are bound for delivery to elderly people who have ordered them from Canadian providers.
Due to the extremely high cost of many prescription drugs in the United States, many senior citizens cannot afford to pay for their medications, absent ordering the drugs, often over the Internet, from lower-cost Canadian vendors.
Although ordering prescription medicines from Canada is technically illegal, U.S. officials have, for the most part, looked the other way in terms of broad enforcement. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has previously ordered targeted seizures of prescription drugs shipped from overseas.
William Hubbard, the FDA’s associate commissioner of policy and planning, stated the following in a March 10, 2005, Bloomberg News wire story:
The FDA can target particular shipments, Hubbard said. The agency seized about 450 packages in July from [a] Canadian Internet pharmacy, CanadaRx.net, that passed through the Bahamas, Hubbard said.
Critics of such seizures say the policy threatens the lives of senior citizens and demonstrates that the U.S. government is carrying water for the pharmaceutical industry.
Drug makers see it differently, of course. Jack Cox, a spokesman for the New York-based pharmaceutical conglomerate Pfizer, told Bloomberg News that “the FDA is ‘just enforcing US law.’ “
Conrad says his information on the Miami CBP seizure program is coming from a source with direct knowledge of the operation. He adds that those involved in the seizures have been ordered to assist with the program and also are under orders not to discuss the operation with anyone. He adds that the program has been ongoing for at least three weeks.
“Customs in Miami is seizing medications shipped in from Canada,” Conrad says. “Most of this medication is U.S.-made, then shipped to Canada, and is now simply coming back into the country.”
Conrad says he is not sure if the seizure operation extends beyond Miami at this time. However, he says the operation was undertaken with no notice to the public. That means senior citizens depending on this medication are unaware that the drugs have been seized.
“The [elderly] people who ordered the medication will be getting letters [from the government] informing them that the shipments have been seized,” Conrad says. “They have bins and bins of medicine, some of it live-saving medication.”
Conrad says drugs on the hit list include blood-pressure, asthma, antidepressant, heart and cancer medication.
“My understanding is that some cancer medication was seized that requires refrigeration,” he adds.
Last modified February 7, 2006