Sanders, Leahy Argue for Drug Re-importation in Senate Hearings

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(Host) Vermont’s congressional delegation is turning up the pressure on those trying to prevent the re-importation of inexpensive drugs from Canada.

Melinda Wittstock reports from the Capitol Hill Bureau in Washington.

(Wittstock) Vermont Representative Bernie Sanders led the first bus tours north of the border, where seniors could buy their prescriptions for a fraction of the cost. That was five years ago. Wednesday he was still fighting the battle in a Senate hearing room:

(Sanders) “All over this country people are asking, why is it that right across the Canadian border people are able to purchase the same exact medicine, produced in the same factories at a fraction of the price.”

(Wittstock) The independent congressman, who got his way in the House Tuesday when lawmakers again voted to legalize the re-importation of American-manufactured drugs, took on those in the Senate who say imported drugs are not safe:

(Sanders) “If we can eat food from all over the world, how is it that the Food and Drug Administration cannot regulate a handful of pharmaceutical industries and track the medicine that goes abroad and comes back?”

(Wittstock) But the Food and Drug Administration says it’s easier to ensure the safety of imported food. John Taylor is associate commissioner for regulatory affairs:

(Taylor) “The counterfeiters that we’ve seen recently have become more savvy not only in terms of how they manufacture the product but also in terms of how they label the product and introduce that product into domestic commerce.”

(Wittstock) But Vermont Democrat, Senator Patrick Leahy says the FDA argument is disingenuous:

(Leahy) “A prescription drug is neither safe nor effective if you can’t afford to buy it.”

(Wittstock) Drug re-importation has bipartisan support in the Senate but Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee – a doctor – has so far stopped it from coming to a vote.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Melinda Wittstock on Capitol Hill.

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