Thu, Dec 23, 2004 - Page 7 News List

White House decries drug imports


US President George W. Bush dangled his support for legalizing prescription drug imports before voters during this year's campaign, but his administration is now saying that it's too costly to do safely.

Regulating the purchase of prescription medicines from abroad would wipe away most savings and diminish investment in new drugs, said a report issued on Tuesday by an administration task force studying the feasibility of legalized drug imports.

Consumers would be better off increasing their use of generic medicines, which often are cheaper in the US than elsewhere, the report said.

Proponents of drug imports, including some Republican lawmakers, said the report's conclusions were not surprising because many task force members have been staunchly opposed to importation.

"It sounds like PhRMA could have written the report," Repres-entative Jo Ann Emerson, a Missouri Republican, said, referring to the drug industry trade group.

An Associated Press poll this year found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said the government should make it easier to buy cheaper drugs from Canada or other countries.

A growing number of cities and states are helping employees and retirees buy drugs from Canada, over the objections of the Food and Drug Administration.

The administration recently negotiated the purchase of up to 4 million doses of flu vaccine from Germany to make up some of this year's shortage, but will require every patient to sign a consent form acknowledging the possibility of risks.

Bush said during the campaign he would wait for the report before making up his mind about drug imports as a way to help bring down prices. Many top-selling, brand-name drugs are at least one-third cheaper in Canada and elsewhere.

Lawmakers inserted a provision in last year's Medicare prescription drug law requiring the report to mollify colleagues who back drug imports. They set a December deadline to insure that Congress would not have to deal with the issue until after the election.

The report severely limited the circumstances in which drug imports could be safe. Individual drug shipments through the mail and package services should not be made legal at all, the report said.

Commercial importation from Canada, using licensed wholesalers, could be considered, the report said. But the savings would be small because taxpayers would have to spend several hundred million dollars to increase the regulation of drug manufacturers and distributors, the report said.

Some opponents of importation said current questions about the FDA's ability to monitor the safety of drugs that can be sold legally in the US provide even more reason to bar drug imports.

Advocates for opening the borders to prescription medicines said the report ignores the reality that Americans are buying cheaper drugs from abroad safely.

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