- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said yesterday that he would defy the federal government by importing prescription drugs from Canada, only to say later that he would not advise county employees to break the law.

The change drew sharp criticism from the County Council President Tom Perez, Takoma Park Democrat.

“I don’t understand how Doug Duncan got so timid on this three hours after saying he wasn’t going to be timid on this,” he said. “It’s a major flip-flop.”

Mr. Duncan said in a noon press release that he planned to sue President Bush, whose popularity ratings are at an all-time low, to allow the county to import Canadian drugs, which are often much cheaper than those from the United States.

The release stated that Mr. Duncan had “instructed staff to begin implementing the new law.”

Then Mr. Duncan, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2006, issued a revised statement saying he intended only to appeal a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision Tuesday rejecting his request to import Canadian drugs.

“Any County employee who facilitates the importation of Canadian drugs in violation of the Federal law would potentially be subject to criminal prosecution and personal liability,” according to the second release. Mr. “Duncan will not ask any County employee to violate the law.”

County spokesman David Weaver said Mr. Duncan did not “flip-flop.”

“There was a mistake made, an administrative error and an unapproved version of a press release was issued, one which the county executive had not reviewed or OKd,” he said. “Duncan’s position has never changed on this issue.”

He also said Mr. Duncan “has always made very clear that he will not put county employees at risk of criminal prosecution in order to achieve our mutual goals of importing Canadian drugs. However, some on the council have chosen not to hear him.”

Mr. Weaver said Mr. Duncan also made his position clear in a memo to the council that was sent after the initial press release was issued.

“Anybody who is attempting to suggest that he wavered from that position is being disingenuous,” he said.

The bill, sponsored by Mr. Perez, who plans to run for state attorney general, will require county agencies to give employees the option to purchase prescription drugs from Canada.

Mr. Duncan yesterday returned the bill to the council without signing it, but did not veto it.

Mr. Weaver said the bill will become law, but Mr. Duncan will not implement it.

Drugs from Canada-based companies are usually cheaper than FDA-regulated drugs that come from U.S. doctors. But there is great concern about the safety of such drugs.

Congress has looked at opening the U.S. market to Canadian drugs, but so far has concluded that the cost of ensuring drug safety would offset potential savings to the consumer.

The FDA pointed out in its rejection letter that Mr. Duncan has received three legal opinions, including one from his county attorney, stating that importation of Canadian drugs would be illegal.

The council bill applies only to the 28,000 county employees, not all residents.

Additionally, the county’s school board, which employs about 20,000 of those county workers, has decided not to participate in the Canadian drug program.

Blair Lee IV, a longtime county political observer and businessman, said Mr. Duncan was “trying to avoid breaking the law and instead put the onus on Bush and the administration. That’s politics.”

Mr. Weaver said the waiver request goes further than the council bill because it is on behalf of all county residents, not just county employees. He said it is an attempt to work with the FDA on the reimportation of U.S.-produced drugs that are sent to Canada and sold for cheaper prices than in the U.S.

A spokeswoman for the FDA would not comment on whether the idea of reimportation is possible, but an attorney for the AARP said a similar concept is.

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