Vermont plans to challenge FDA ban on drug imports

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(Host) The Food and Drug Administration says it rejected Vermont’s plan to import drugs from Canada in order to protect public health and safety.

Vermont plans to go to court to overturn the FDA ban on drug imports, but a top FDA official says the federal government will defend the agency’s decision.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Vermont wants to be the first state to challenge the FDA over its refusal to allow prescription drug imports from Canada.

But William Hubbard, the FDA’s associate commission for policy, says Vermont would not be able to guarantee the safety of the Canadian products.

(Hubbard) “Congress has not given the FDA, at least not yet, the resources to oversee these imported drugs. So our fear is that Americans would be getting drugs that are unregulated and of suspicious quality in many cases.”

(Dillon) Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell admits it may be difficult to overturn the FDA decision in court.

(Sorrell) “But on the other hand, you’ve got the facts to show that Canadians sure aren’t concerned about the quality of the drugs that they’re buying in their pharmacies. We don’t have, you know, numbers of Canadians dying by buying adulterated drugs in their drugstores. So what’s the real, legitimate, factual basis for the FDA rejection on safety grounds? I don’t see it.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas says that the FDA ought to be able to address the safety issues.

(Douglas) “Well, ironically, the most significant recall has been in the United Sates over the last few months, not because of any Canadian drugs that were imported or re-imported. I certainly am concerned about the safety of pharmaceutical products and want to be sure that they are manufactured and distributed in a safe and effective way. But I have to believe in the 21st century we can find some safeguards to put in place that would protect them.”

(Dillon) There’s a political dimension to the drug import issue as well. Governor Douglas is co-chairman of President Bush’s re-election committee in Vermont. His Democratic challenger, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, has set up a drug re-importation program in the state’s largest city.

Clavelle has repeatedly criticized Douglas for failing to fight the federal ban on Canadian drug imports. He calls Vermont’s lawsuit political opportunism.

(Clavelle) “If Jim Douglas was serious about taking on the FDA he would do what the city of Burlington has done, and he would do what other governors across the country have done, including Republican governors in New Hampshire and Minnesota. He would say, we’re going to Canada, we’re going to Canada today.”

(Dillon) New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson wants to import Canadian drugs for Medicaid recipients, retired state employees and prison inmates. Three other states have set up websites to link consumers with Canadian pharmacies.

Governor Douglas denies the suit is motivated by politics. He says he’ll send his top aides to New Hampshire to review its import plan. Vermont also plans to work with New Hampshire and Maine on ways to work together to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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