- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

The Senate yesterday derailed a move to allow consumers to buy prescription drugs from Canada and other countries by making them meet strict U.S. standards.

The bipartisan 49-40 vote for safety certification for imported drugs saved President Bush from having to veto the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization bill, which he promised to do if it opened the door to potentially dangerous drug imports.

“The safety of the American consumer must be our No. 1 priority,” said Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, who sponsored the amendment requiring foreign-made drugs be certified by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, called the vote a victory for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and a “poison pill” that killed consumer access to cheaper prescription medicine.

“It is unfair that the American public continues to pay the highest prices in the world,” he said, adding that he hopes the House will allow access to foreign drugs when it takes up the bill.

The Senate adjourned last night without voting on the overall bill.

The larger bill, under which drug companies would have to pay the FDA about $400 million in fees next year, enjoys widespread support on both sides of the aisle and is expected to pass easily as soon as today.

The amendment to loosen drug-import restrictions was sponsored by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, and would have allowed consumers, pharmacies and wholesalers to buy drugs from FDA-approved sources in Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan and New Zealand. It passed on a voice vote, but was nullified by the earlier approval of Mr. Cochran’s amendment.

Drugs in these countries can cost two-thirds less than they do in the United States, where prices for brand-name drugs are among the highest in the world. However, prices often are lower elsewhere because industrialized countries impose some level of price controls.

Allowing imports from those countries would drive down prices of U.S. brand-name drugs, Mr. Dorgan has said.

Under Mr. Dorgan’s measure, the FDA would regulate imports of prescription drugs for commercial or personal use. It also would mandate FDA inspections of Canadian prescription-drug exporters 12 times a year.

Allowing prescription-drug imports enjoys broad popular support, but lower prices overseas would not automatically translate into large savings for domestic consumers, according to a 2004 study by the Congressional Budget Office.

The study found that allowing drug imports from a broad set of countries would cut U.S. drug spending by $40 billion over 10 years. The pharmaceutical industry opposes allowing drug imports, arguing that they could leave the nation vulnerable to dangerous counterfeits.

• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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