- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The federal government said it will stop seizing small amounts of lower-priced prescription medications mailed from Canada.

Since November, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have seized prescription drugs that 40,000 Americans had ordered from Canada, Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday. The new policy, which takes effect Monday, was announced in e-mail from the Department of Homeland Security to congressional staff Monday.

CBP spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger confirmed the policy change Tuesday, saying the agency no longer would intercept the drugs or issue letters to postal carriers indicating it is illegal to import prescription medications. She said the policy change is in response to political pressure from lawmakers and people who complained they no longer were receiving their medicine.

Mr. Nelson said the new policy will allow Americans to import small amounts of prescription drugs — roughly a 90-day supply.

“It’s a great victory, particularly for the senior citizens who are having difficulty making financial ends meet in a time in which, sadly, some senior citizens have to make a decision between buying their prescription drugs and buying their groceries,” Mr. Nelson said.

The change means that the Food and Drug Administration will resume oversight of the importation of prescription drugs. Before CBP took over enforcement, the FDA largely ignored the importation of small amounts of prescription drugs.

It is still illegal to import prescription drugs, but Mr. Nelson said he received assurances from the FDA that the agency will not act on small drug shipments for individuals.

Mr. Nelson, a Democrat running for re-election against Republican challenger Katherine Harris, has railed against CBP’s involvement since receiving a complaint from a couple whose shipments were intercepted.

He and Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, tried to amend a homeland security appropriations bill to allow U.S. residents to import small amounts of prescription drugs for personal use. But that bill, which President Bush signed yesterday, only would allow Americans crossing the Canadian border — not using Internet purchases or mail orders — to bring in small amounts of prescription drugs.

Mr. Nelson said the FDA will focus on large shipments of drugs that are likely being imported for illegal purposes.

The FDA, however, could not say whether it will step up oversight of mail-ordered drugs from Canada.

“We haven’t heard from customs yet — and when we do, we can decide what our next course of action is,” FDA spokeswoman Cathy McDermott said. “We continue to be concerned about the risk of importing foreign drugs.”

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