Sanders and Douglas maintain opposing views on prescription drug reimportation

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders wants Vermont to follow the lead of several other states and provide direct assistance for consumers who want to buy prescription drugs from Canada.

Governor Jim Douglas is against it. He says the state’s recent lawsuit against the federal government over reimportation will yield better results.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) As legislation legalizing the reimportation of drugs from Canada languishes in Congress, a number of states have decided to take action on their own.

Illinois became the fifth state this week to establish a link on their official state website that allows consumers to buy their prescription drugs directly from a Canadian pharmacy at a savings of between 25% and 50%.

The federal Food and Drug Administration says it’s illegal for states to help consumers buy drugs from Canada but the FDA, to date, hasn’t taken any legal action against these states.

Congressman Bernie Sanders thinks it’s important for Vermont and other states to launch similar reimportation programs using the Internet.

(Sanders) “It also puts pressure on the Bush administration to say, ‘Hey, stop protecting the interests of the pharmaceutical industry; pay attention to the consumers in this country who need affordable prescription drugs’.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says this approach is against the law, and he says Vermont’s lawsuit against the FDA to overturn the current ban on reimportation is the best way to reduce the cost of many drugs.

(Douglas) “There’s no question that the most important objective is providing access to low cost drugs to the people of our state and the United States, and I think it’s important to work within the framework of the law in order to do that. But real leadership is not simply breaking the law and allowing a few people to access low cost drugs. It’s pursuing a national strategy and a policy that will change the law so that not only Vermonters but all Americans can benefit.”

(Kinzel) But Sanders argues that the law is not clear cut.

(Sanders) “I don’t think it’s a question of breaking the law. I have made two trips over the border. Nobody thinks we are breaking the law. You have a gray area; that’s what you have, a gray area. And if the Bush Administration was so convinced that they are right on this issue, why haven’t they gone to court against Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Hampshire? They’re not going to court.”

(Kinzel) The US House has passed legislation authorizing the reimportation of drugs from Canada – the measure is now being reviewed in the US Senate.

Sanders says a majority of senators support this bill but it’s not clear if the Republican leadership in the Senate will allow the legislation to come to floor for a vote when Congress returns to Washington in September.

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

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