- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Whether Americans opt for Nexium or Prevacid to treat their heartburn, they could have bought the drugs in Canada for less than half the price.

As Congress debates whether to allow foreign pharmacies to fill prescriptions, the Associated Press surveyed U.S. and Canadian prices for 10 popular drugs and found the Canadian prices were 33 percent to 80 percent cheaper.

For example, a three-month supply of cholesterol-controlling Lipitor, the world’s best-selling prescription drug, was 37 percent cheaper in Canada. The antidepressant Paxil cost about half as much as in the United States, while the arthritis drug Vioxx costs 58 percent less. The biggest price difference was for the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, which was 80 percent cheaper in Canada.

The figures are from a check of drug prices on Internet sites maintained by American and Canadian pharmacies.

“You’re talking about a $40 billion savings, just in what the government dispenses,” said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, who withheld her support from the House version of a Medicare prescription-drug bill until she received assurances from Republican leaders that they would address importation in the final legislation.

Whether to allow Americans to import drugs from Canada and other countries where governments have imposed price controls is among the outstanding issues as lawmakers race to come up with a bill before year’s end to create a prescription-drug benefit for seniors.

Bringing prescription drugs into this country from abroad is illegal. But the federal government has not tried to block individuals from traveling to Canada to fill their prescriptions.

With Americans facing skyrocketing pharmacy bills, buying drugs in Canada has become a hot political issue, no longer confined to border states where busloads of Americans could make a quick trip north to pick up their prescriptions.

The idea of buying in Canada is favored by a majority of members in the House of Representatives and several Democratic and Republican governors. The issue played a role even in Tuesday’s mayoral election in New Britain, Conn., where the incumbent lost to a candidate who campaigned on a plan to buy low-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

Illinois would save about $91 million a year by buying prescription drugs from Canada, according to report commissioned by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat. The state spent $340 million on prescription drugs for its employees and retirees last year, up 15 percent from a year earlier.

Despite the popular support for allowing imports, the congressional measure is being fought by drug manufacturers, as well as the Bush administration and influential lawmakers in both parties, mainly citing safety reasons.

The Food and Drug Administration has said it is especially concerned about the safety of Internet drug sales.

Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, one of the congressional negotiators, said Canada itself is not the problem so much as other countries, where the drugs are produced.

“It is not an answer to this problem to say go buy drugs from Canada, which may be coming from Pakistan and India and China and all those countries we have health concerns about,” Mr. Breaux said.


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