November 3, 1999
Bill Would Bar Dumping of Inappropriate Drugs in World Crisis
By REED ABELSON
egislation was introduced in Congress on Tuesday to discourage
American drug companies from sending donations of unwanted or
inappropriate drugs during world crisis situations.
During the Kosovo crisis, drug companies and relief agencies
worked together to provide badly needed medicine to the hundreds of
thousands of refugees streaming into Albania and Macedonia. But
huge quantities of outdated, unlabeled or inappropriate drugs were
also sent, including items like Chapstick, Preparation H and
anti-smoking inhalers, relief workers reported at the time.
"U.S. tax laws provide an incentive for foreign dumping that
must end," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, a member of the House
Ways and Means Committee, who introduced the bill.
American companies receive generous tax deductions for donating
medicines for needy people, including those hit by emergencies like
an earthquake or a war.
Under Doggett's bill, only drugs donated under guidelines
developed by the World Health Organization, which has been a vocal
critic of drug dumping, would be eligible for this deduction.
The problem of unwanted drugs has been a longstanding issue, and
the health organization has estimated that hundreds of tons of
unusable drugs have been sent in response to emergencies. A recent
study by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that a
significant percentage of donations in recent years in the three
countries studied -- Armenia, Haiti and Tanzania -- were also not
"To those in need around the world, the dumping of useless
drugs is actually worse than no help at all, since such toxic junk
must be destroyed by the very people requesting help," said
Doggett, whose staff said he was prompted to introduce the bill by
an article in The New York Times in June about the problem during
the Kosovo crisis.
As much as half of shipments of donated drugs to the region were
inappropriate and likely to take up space in warehouses or have to
be destroyed at considerable expense, according to WHO.
Doggett and Rep. William Coyne, D-Pa., have also asked the
General Accounting Office to investigate these donations of drugs
overseas. They want the office to determine whether companies are
now following the guidelines, and how much is being taken annually
by the drug companies in tax deductions for unwanted and
Under the bill, which is being supported by 54 House members,
all Democrats, only donations that are sent with adequate labeling
and with a shelf life of at least one year, unless otherwise
requested, and that are donated with the approval of foreign health
workers will be eligible for tax deductions. The IRS would be able
to deny deductions for donations that do not meet these criteria.
The legislation is supported by the Partnership for Quality
Medical Donations, an umbrella group of six relief agencies,
including the Catholic Medical Mission Board and AmeriCares, and 11
drug companies, including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli
Lilly. In October, the partnership said it would endorse the WHO
The health organization is collecting reports of drug dumping
and says it will make public the identity of any repeat offenders.
"It is really disappointing how high a percentage of donations
do not follow the guidelines," said Jonathan Quick, the director
of WHO's essential drug program. "The more groups that come on
board, the better the situation will be."