Senate approves bill allowing reimportation of drugs

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com June 23 2003 11:00 PM ET

The U.S. Senate on Friday voted 62-28 for a bill that would establish a one-year pilot program through which pharmacists and wholesalers in the United States could reimport prescription drugs from Canada, where the medications often sell for a fraction of the U.S. price, the Los Angeles Times reports. Many anti-HIV medications, for example, can be bought in Canada for less than half of the price charged in the United States. However, the measure, attached as an amendment to the Medicare reform bill, includes a provision that allows Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson to certify that the medications to be reimported are safe and would save consumers money, which could be used by the Bush administration to prevent the program from ever launching.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America oppose the amendment due to safety concerns. Mark McClellan, director of the FDA, said his agency would not be able to guarantee the safety or efficacy of drugs reimported from Canada and worries that the Senate proposal would "create a wide inlet for counterfeit drugs and other dangerous products." The Medicare reform bill currently before the U.S. House does not include a drug reimportation measure, but Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) said he plans to introduce legislation that would allow medications to be reimported from several countries, with or without HHS approval.