Lawmakers Push for Canadian Drug Reimportation
Congressional efforts to allow prescription drugs to be reimported from Canada have "attracted serious attention" in recent weeks as the shrinking federal surplus hampers efforts to add a drug benefit to Medicare, the New York Times reports. While a provision permitting drug reimportation from 26 countries was passed last year as part of a spending bill, the Clinton and Bush administrations "refused" to issue rules to implement the law because of safety concerns about reimported pharmaceuticals. But some legislators are now pushing to allow drug imports from Canada. In the Senate, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) plans to offer legislation this month to allow Canadian drug imports, working with Sens. James Jeffords (I-Vt.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). "It would be very hard for anyone to make a credible case that there is a risk in importing drugs from Canada," Dorgan said. Under the proposal, imported prescriptions would have to meet all "safety and labeling requirements" that govern drugs produced and distributed in the United States. Also, imported drugs would be tested for "purity" to ensure the medicine had not been tampered with or improperly labeled.
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At a Senate hearing last week, FDA Senior Associate Commissioner William Hubbard testified that while he would have a "relatively high degree of confidence" in drugs imported from Canada, he could not vouch for their safety. "Once a drug goes into the Canadian market, it's outside FDA jurisdiction ... [and] all sorts of malevolent things" could happen, he said. Pharmaceutical companies are opposing import plans, saying they cannot be certain of how drugs are "stored and handled" once they leave the United States. While Dorgan said the plan would "put pressure on drug companies to lower ... prices" for U.S. consumers, the Times reports that congressional aides have said it is "unrealistic" to think the United States could "solve its problems" by giving consumers access to the much smaller Canadian market. Alan Sager, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health, also said that if Dorgan's plan is enacted, pharmaceutical companies could "thwart" it by limiting supplies to Canada (Pear, New York Times, 9/9).