Opposition to Rx Importing Softens...

JULY 01, 2004
Ken Rankin

The opposition to legalizing prescription drug imports from Canada is beginning to crumble, as both government officials and retail pharmacy leaders respond to growing public pressure to permit cross-border Rx sales.

The first major crack came from deep within the Bush administration, which has steadfastly opposed prescription importation because of drugsafety concerns. Noting that a number of bills are pending in the House and Senate that would permit Americans to have their prescriptions filled by foreign pharmacies, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson announced that he will urge President Bush not to veto such legislation if it is passed by Congress.

Thompson's about-face came as some community pharmacy leaders reassessed their own opposition to Rx importation arrangements. The first to do so was CVS' Chief Executive Officer Tom Ryan. He said that his chain would support at least a partial lifting of the restrictions on Canadian drug imports.

"While many in our industry believe that importation is a fundamentally flawed concept and oppose it without exception, I have come to a slightly different view," Ryan told an HHS task force on importation. "Simply put, there are too many patients our pharmacists never see because they cannot afford the drugs we dispense, and others who are unable to pay for a full regimen of medications because it soaks up so much of their disposable income."

Under Ryan's proposal, the United States would authorize the bulk importation of medicines from Canada, as well as from other nations where safety and quality measures are similar to those in the United States. The imported drugs then would be dispensed by licensed US pharmacies.

Following Ryan's testimony to the task force, officials at Walgreens said that their company also would support legalized Rx importation, as long as US pharmacies continue to actively participate in filling prescriptions containing Canadian drugs.