Bush Reiterates Safety Concerns About Reimportation of Prescription Drugs; States Turn to Europe
President Bush on Thursday reiterated previously stated concerns that purchasing lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada compromises U.S. residents' safety, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. When asked whether his administration would "like to see these Canadian drug purchases shut down or continued," Bush responded that as president it is his responsibility to ensure that products are safe.
Bush referred to an initiative Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) began last year in which residents can use a state Web site to get information on purchasing prescription drugs from other countries. Bush said, "My concern all along is that well-meaning Minnesota citizens won't have adequate protection when it comes to buying drugs" from other countries. He added, "[L]ike my predecessor, [I have] taken a go-slow approach to make sure we can adequately protect the consumers. I mean, the worst thing that could possibly happen is that somebody would say, 'I think I can save some money on prescription drugs,' thinking they're buying" safe drugs but are instead purchasing counterfeit and potentially dangerous substances.
Bush, citing a recent HHS task force report on reimportation, said, "It would be very costly to be able to say to people in Minnesota, or anywhere else along the border, that 'you're safe.'" Pawlenty responded, "We respectfully disagree." Pawlenty spokesperson Brian McClung added, "Gov. Pawlenty said that he believes Minnesota has shown that importation of prescription medicines from Canada can be done in a safe manner."
During the interview, Bush also "laid out broad themes" he will address in his Jan. 20 inaugural speech. He added that his second-term agenda will include efforts to address medical malpractice lawsuits and the Social Security system (Webb, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1/14).
In other drug importation news, several states are considering "turning to Europe" to import lower-cost prescription drugs since Canadian government officials have said they are considering "significantly limiting" drug exports to U.S. residents, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. Officials in states with programs to assist residents import drugs have "decided to stick to English-speaking countries" in Europe in an effort to avoid linguistic or labeling confusion, according to the AP/Sun.
However, fluctuation among U.S. and foreign currencies could reduce savings, Donald MacArthur, former secretary general of the European Parallel Trade Association, noted. He added, "It makes it less and less attractive to supply from a euro-zone country." MacArthur also noted that it could be time-consuming for European countries to establish a drug exporting network. According to the AP/Sun, "[T]here have been moves in Europe to restrict access to lower-cost drugs across national lines."
Caleb Weaver, project manager of I-SaveRX -- an Illinois program that also assists residents in Wisconsin, Missouri and Kansas in purchasing prescription drugs from other countries -- said that importing from Europe "spread[s] the risk" of drug manufacturers limiting supplies to the United States. Vermont House Health Care Committee Chair John Tracy (D) said that the prescription drug industry is "bullying around countries."
Pfizer official Peter Rost -- speaking on his own behalf and not that of his company -- said importing drugs from Europe is logical and feasible. He said, "Just authorizing a scheme where drugs come from Canada is doomed to fail. You must look to the European Union." Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spokesperson Wanda Moebius said, "Despite assurances that drugs will be the same drugs Americans get, that's been repeatedly shown not to be the case." She added, "When you start going outside the U.S., you are opening yourself up to a number of safety issues" (Sneyd, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/13).
Officials for eight drug manufacturers, in an effort to dismiss a lawsuit alleging they conspired to restrict U.S. residents' access to brand-name drugs from Canada, are challenging U.S. consumers' right to import prescription drugs from other countries. In the lawsuit, the manufacturers -- including Pfizer, Merck and Novartis -- defended their actions, saying they intended to prevent illegal activity.
The manufacturers cite an FDA statement that reads, "[P]ermitting foreign drugs to be freely imported" is "directly contrary to current law." Hughes Hubbard and Reed attorney Robert Reznick, who is representing the manufacturers in the case, said, "Selling illegally imported drugs isn't competition. It's a felony, and it's not protected under the law." Miller Faucher and Cafferty attorney William Kane, who is representing consumers in the case, said that the manufacturers "conspired in violation of antitrust laws to protect their profits on the backs of American consumers. We want state law to provide a remedy to the defendants' unlawful conduct."
The consumers argue that banning the purchase of Canadian drugs would extend to a U.S. resident visiting Canada who became sick and was issued a prescription there, a move they say "defies reason," the Detroit Free Press reports. U.S. Magistrate Jonathan Lebedoff is hearing the case and will submit his recommendations to U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen. There is no deadline for a ruling (Detroit Free Press, 1/14).