Sunday, May 2, 2004

The importation of prescription drugs from other countries as a cost-saving measure for consumers could lead to a loss of U.S. pharmaceutical jobs, say some scholars and administration officials.

“We’ll see a loss of [drug] manufacturing jobs,” said Robert Goldberg, director of the Center for Medical Progress at the Manhattan Institute.

Mr. Goldberg said the goal of the drug-importation bills before Congress “is to increase the amount of drugs manufactured overseas and shipped to the U.S. at price-controlled prices.”

As a result, he said, “U.S. manufacturing jobs will follow. … They’ll go where the pills are produced at the lowest possible cost.”

Mr. Goldberg also said the U.S. drug industry will lose money from opening up the market to foreign drugs and, as a result, will be forced to cut back on research and development.

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas told lawmakers that drug manufacturers could leave the United States if Congress allows consumers to import drugs from countries with price controls, such as Canada, Reuters reported.

Mr. Aldonas, who heads the International Trade Administration (ITA), said, “There will be disinvestment in the United States, a loss of employment opportunities, and frankly, a loss of an industry that is a huge multiplier” as far as benefits to the overall U.S. economy, Reuters reported.

ITA officials couldn’t elaborate on Mr. Aldonas’ statements, and he was unavailable.

Critics of the administration, however, said these arguments are just another excuse for opposing efforts to import cheaper drugs.

“Over and over, President Bush has come up with excuses to allow drug prices to skyrocket. This is just another excuse,” said Sarah Leonard, spokeswoman for America Coming Together, a Democrat-affiliated get-out-the-vote group.

The issue has gained momentum as more senior citizens have defied current laws and purchased drugs from Canada. Many lawmakers are feeling the pressure.

On April 21, a bipartisan group of senators — including Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat; Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat; and Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican — introduced a bill that would allow individuals to import a 90-day supply of prescription drugs from Canada.

U.S. wholesalers and pharmacies also would be allowed to import prescription drugs from Canada, and after one year, they’d be able to import from the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland.

The House approved legislation last July that would allow individuals, pharmacists and wholesalers to import prescription drugs from about 25 countries.

Critics, including the administration, have warned that the safety of such drugs cannot be guaranteed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Supporters say allowing these drugs to be sold here will force down the cost of prescription drugs in the United States, saving consumers millions.

But an April 29 Congressional Budget Office Report found that savings from drug importation would likely be “small,” in part because it would depend on whether large volumes of foreign drugs made their way into the United States. Foreign governments also could limit their exports to avoid shortages.

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