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Date Posted: 03:32:45 12/16/03 Tue
Author: Benny
Subject: Buying your drugs North of the Border
In reply to: Bennie 's message, "Canada: New Hampshire to put Canadian drugs mere click away for its residents" on 08:48:56 12/12/03 Fri

Buying your drugs North of the Border
By RYAN HEINZ

Eagle Staff Writer

This is the first of a four-part series on prescription drugs, their availability, safety and the effect of Gov. Blagojevich's decision to promote buying those drugs from Canada.

Over the course of the last few months, there has been a new kind of drug trafficking going on between the United States and Canada. These illegally imported drugs are not your typical cases of marijuana, cocaine or any other narcotic. Oh no, there’s a new drug that’s grabbed the media’s attention and caused many a row between various individuals. The unusual thing about the moving of these drugs across the border is that it is actually encouraged by our government... sort of.

The body of government that supports the importation, or reimportation, is our very own Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the drugs are actually pharmaceuticals. What Blagojevich has the state of Illinois involved in is the same thing that Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are also doing – attempting to set state-sponsored plans to import prescription drugs from Canada, which, according to a recent governor’s report, sells their pharmaceuticals at a significantly lower price than what they go for in the U.S.

2004 U.S. Senate hopeful Blair Hull is one of the most noteworthy cases of Illinoisans leading the charge to Canada in an attempt to take advantage of lower prescription costs. He recently made headlines by organizing a bus trip to Ontario for seniors to “take advantage of the much, much lower prices available in Canada,” according to his campaign Web site. The site also went on to accuse the Bush Administration for the high drug prices in America, and then went on to claim some drugs in Canada are actually priced at 70 percent less then their American counterparts.

But are the Canadian prescriptions actually that much cheaper than in the U.S.? How are people like Blagojevich and Hull getting away with illegal importation of the drugs? Will the gesture of going to another country for an item that is readily available in our own make for any changes in price, economy or legislature? How will Canada be affected by droves of Americans swarming down upon their stock of pharmaceuticals?

This series of articles will try to shed light on some of those questions with the aid of local pharmacists, representatives of Gov. Blagojevich’s office and representatives of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Importation background and Blagojevich’s report

The purchasing of prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies seems to be a subject that has many a group divided. Jack Stites, a Macomb pharmacist who in his more than 50 years of practice has owned two local pharmacies, is against it because of his belief that the importation could result in an increase of the already problematic counterfeiting of drugs. The FDA opposes importation because they cannot guarantee the safety of foreign drugs or even former U.S. drugs that are being reimported. Meanwhile, most of Congress has been too burdened with Medicare’s largest expansion since its 1965 inception to take much notice. Blagojevich, on the other hand, has employed a research team who have come back with the “Report on Feasibility of Employees and Retirees Safely and Effectively Purchasing Prescription Drugs from Canadian Pharmacies.” The report’s key findings section stated the following: “Employees and retirees can safely purchase drugs from Canada” and “Pharmacy practice in Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario is equal to or superior to pharmacy practice in the State of Illinois.”

The feasibility report, which was released in late October, also said that using Canadian pharmacies as the source of filling prescriptions has a total potential savings estimated to be as much as $90.7 million per year. That may sound great at first, but there is that whole thing of this importing process being illegal. Stites, a member of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) – although he was adamant that he was only speaking on record as a local pharmacist and his remarks did not constitute the overall opinion of the Boards of Pharmacy – elaborated on the law of drug importations and reimportations.

“We passed an act to make it so the importation of non-approved drugs would be illegal in 1987. (It is) to ensure that if an American manufacturer makes a prescription drug and ships it out of the country, that that drug – even though it was made here – cannot be reimported unless it’s the manufacturer that does it,” he said. “And that’s what’s caused all this controversy right now. It’s the fact that American drugs are going out, how come they can’t come back in? They ought to be safe. And they should be, but the Food and Drug Administration can’t guarantee it. That’s the whole catch.”

Tom McGinnis, director of pharmacy affairs for the FDA, said the loophole for getting around illegal importation is to make sure no commercial entities are involved where there’s a profit being made. As long as the individual is only going over their border for their own prescription there is no problem. Retailers are also fine as long as they do not try to turn a profit like Rx Depot has done. This has gotten them into some serious trouble. According to McGinnis, they have a temporary national injunction from a Tulsa, Okla. judge, which has resulted in them closing down their stores.

Despite Blagojevich getting around the illegality of his operation, the FDA and NABP still sincerely disagree with his actions to what they call a lack of safety. The NABP is currently working on a response to Blagojevich’s report, which should be ready by January 2004. Judging by their November/December newsletter, it is unlikely it will be a favorable response.

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Replies:

  • Canada Internet drugstores oppose sales to U.S. state employees -- Meldrew, 23:33:30 12/17/03 Wed
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