Changes in Canadian prescription drug laws

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he doesn’t believe Vermont’s program to help consumers purchase lower cost prescription drugs from Canada will be affected by some proposed changes in Canadian drug laws. But Douglas says the current controversy underscores the limitations of re-importation programs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) For the past few months, Vermonters have been able to import to lower cost prescription drugs from Canada through a multi-state collaboration known as I-SAVE-RX. But the long term viability of the program was thrown into doubt this week when the Health Minister of Canada announced that he’s drafting legislation to ban the bulk sale of drugs to the United States in order to maintain a reasonable supply of drugs in Canada.

Between 25 and 30 Vermonters are signing up for I-SAVE-RX each week. The governor doesn’t think the program will be threatened in the short term:

(Douglas) “I don’t expect, at least immediately, that it will have any impact on the program that the state of Vermont has begun because it deals, as I understand it, with bulk purchases, bulk shipments and not individual ones. So I don’t think there will be an effect right now. But this is not unexpected, at least from my standpoint, because we heard some concerns from Canadians right along about the impact on the marketplace in their country.”

(Kinzel) Vermont AARP has actively promoted the I-SAVE-RX program. Director Greg Marchildon thinks the Canadian decision could be an effort to derail a national drug re-importation bill that enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress:

(Marchildon) “Is it plausible that the pharmaceutical companies in general are throwing their weight around and using scare tactics with the Canadian government? Yes, it’s absolutely plausible and my guess is that they’re probably doing it.”

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders is a lead sponsor of the re-importation bill in the U.S. House. He thinks the pharmaceutical companies are pressuring Canada to restrict drug exports:

(Sanders) “Now the good news is, because we fully anticipated action like this on the part of the pharmaceutical industry, our legislation says it’s not just Canada – it’s another 25 countries in western Europe and throughout the world. In fact we think that the pharmaceutical industry will not be able to do in Europe what they have done in Canada.”

(Kinzel) PHARMA is the drug industry’s main lobbying group in Washington. Spokesman Jeff Trewitt denied that his organization has threatened or tried to unduly influence the Canadian government in any way:

(Trewitt) “The Canadian government made a decision after a great deal of deliberation. They made a decision and our position again remains unchanged without strong FDA safety protocols in place, we do remain opposed to importing drugs from foreign countries – either in bulk or through the Internet.”

(Kinzel) The national re-importation bill is expected to come up for a vote in both the U.S. House and Senate this fall.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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