- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

From combined dispatches

House Republicans tentatively agreed yesterday to prohibit customs agents from seizing prescription drugs that Americans buy in Canada and bring back into the United States.

The deal would let Americans carry up to a 90-day supply of medication back to the U.S. from Canada without being stopped by customs agents, House and Senate Republicans said. But it would not let Americans purchase cheaper prescriptions over the Internet or by mail order, officials said.

House Republican leaders agreed to allow individuals to buy prescription drugs from Canada to take advantage of the country’s lower prices, said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, who has been a leading House advocate for so-called re-importation.

The accord clears the way for House and Senate negotiators to pass legislation funding the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2007, which begins Oct. 1. The Senate spending measure has a drug-importation provision, which initially was opposed by the House Republican leaders.

“This really breaks the dam, and it shows that it’s only a matter of time before we pass a full-blown re-importation bill,” said Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, who led the fight in the Senate to prohibit the Homeland Security Department from seizing prescription drugs being carried over the border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is an arm of the Homeland Security Department.

Mr. Vitter acknowledged that sales of drugs though mail order or through the Internet is significant. But, he added, “I think support for that is going to continue, and going to continue to grow, no matter what this bill says or doesn’t say.”

President Bush and former President Bill Clinton have rejected repeated congressional efforts to lift the ban on prescription imports. Medications are generally cheaper in Canada because of government price controls.

While importing drugs into the United States is illegal, the Food and Drug Administration generally has not stopped small amounts of medicine purchased for personal use. But customs officials began intercepting imported prescription drugs two years ago and seized more than 34,000 packages of drugs coming into the country over the past year.

The pre-election controversy over the new rule threatened to split House Republican leadership who oppose lifting the import ban and rank-and-file Republican lawmakers who want to help elderly voters buy cheaper drugs.

However, many customs agents already allow prescription drugs into the U.S. from Canada because they don’t rigorously search people and cars for them.

Opponents said importing drugs that do not have FDA approval could be unsafe for consumers. The FDA says it cannot guarantee the safety of imported drugs.

Representatives for the pharmaceutical industry said Canadian Internet pharmacies, for example, have been known to sell fake and potentially unsafe medicines to unknowing American consumers through other countries.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, brand-name drugs cost, on average, 35 to 55 percent less in other industrialized nations than they do in the United States. Supporters of importing drugs contend that the U.S. is subsidizing the cost of medicine for the rest of the world.

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