FDA condemns drug purchases from Canada
By Julie Appleby
Cities and states should not encourage people to purchase drugs from other countries or look to import drugs from places such as Canada to relieve their own strapped budgets, the Food and Drug Administration has warned.
In a strongly worded letter to the California Attorney General's office, the FDA this week said any city or state that tries to import drugs from Canada or other countries would likely run afoul of a federal law and raise public health concerns.
"Once you give people the false impression that ordering over the Internet is OK, it opens up a Pandora's box of dangers," said Peter Pitts, the FDA's associate commissioner for external relations.
Deficit-laden California requested the FDA's opinion after lawmakers and the state's public employees' health program considered buying lower-cost medications from Canada to save money.
A spokesman for the California Attorney General said the FDA's letter would be used to draft a legal opinion for state lawmakers. He would not say what the state would do next.
"The Attorney General does not believe that the federal law at issue here was designed to protect the artificially high prices charged by pharmaceutical companies," spokesman Tom Dresslar said. "We need to avail ourselves of every possible legal avenue to save taxpayers money."
Massachusetts and other states are considering legislation to make it easier for residents to buy drugs from Canada. Last month, Springfield, Mass., began allowing employees and retirees to buy drugs from Canada, and expects to save as much as $9 million a year.
The FDA letter and interest from local governments in buying drugs from Canada come as the drug industry tries to clamp down on international pharmacies in Canada and Canadians themselves debate the effects of growing sales to U.S. residents, estimated at close to $1 billion.
There is increasing tension on both sides of the border:
- Some Canadians say the international pharmacies are exacerbating a shortage of pharmacists by luring them from government-funded hospitals and clinics. But the pharmacies are providing clerical and service jobs in some regions.
- Medical societies in Canada have condemned as unethical the practice of paying doctors to "co-sign" prescriptions for U.S. patients they have never seen.
- Some Canadian pharmacists fear drugmakers may limit supplies to Canada, raise prices or forego launching new drugs there if foreign sales continue.
- U.S. customers often seniors on fixed incomes are protesting as American regulators try to clamp down on Canadian sales through legal actions against operators who help Americans purchase drugs via the Internet. They say the services provide drugs to people who would not be able to afford them otherwise.