Battle over Canadian drug imports focuses on new group

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Associated Press

SACRAMENTO (AP) — The fight over bills allowing California to import prescription drugs from Canada gained another combatant Tuesday, as a drug industry-backed organization of patient advocates urged lawmakers to kill the proposed legislation.

The members of Cures said legislators should keep the state’s borders closed because importing the cheaper drugs would cut into research dollars and jeopardize future medical innovation.

Consumer advocates, however, called the group a front for drug companies trying to preserve their profits.

“The pharmaceutical industry has cobbled together another front group to hide their political agenda to keep drug prices high,” said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Stephen Chang, president of the newly founded Cures — Californian United for Research, Economic Development and Saving Lives — called that “absurd” and said the group is concerned about patients and availability of drugs.

“We have pharmaceutical partners and they have contributed money, but we’re not a front,” said Chang, CEO of Astral Therapeutics in San Diego.

The group, which was incorporated as a nonprofit a few weeks ago, gets funding from national pharmaceutical and biotech trade organizations and other groups, he said. Members had no plans to meet with lawmakers Tuesday.

California’s stakes are high, Flanagan said. If the state passes the bills, other states could follow. At least six states last year took up the issue of how to save money by importing cheaper drugs from Canada.

“Clearly the pharmaceutical industry is descending on California to kill these bills,” said Flanagan. “They know that when the fifth-leading economy in the world puts these kind of reforms in place, the nation will follow.”

Because Canada has a national health system, the government negotiates the maximum price for prescription drugs with the manufacturers — often much less than in the United States. The discrepancy has led many people to drive across the border or order online at Canadian pharmacies to save money.

One of the bills, intended to make it safer for consumers to order drugs over the Internet from Canadian pharmacies, passed the Senate Tuesday and moves to the Assembly.

Under Sen. Deborah Ortiz’s measure, the state Board of Pharmacy would create a Web site identifying Canadian pharmacies that meet a list of California standards.

Pharmaceutical lobbyists, sometimes posing as advocacy groups, have worked against the bill, said Ortiz, a Democrat from Sacramento.

“It’s unfortunate that some advocacy groups can’t see through the fact that they are being used,” Ortiz said.

One million Americans are purchasing drugs over the Internet, and California has an obligation to protect those consumers, she said.

Another bill allowing pharmacies to purchase drugs from Canada for Medi-Cal and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program also passed on the Senate floor Tuesday and moves to the Assembly.

On Monday, a bill requiring the Department of General Services to include Canadian pharmaceutical sources in purchasing to get the best price passed the Senate.

Another bill would direct the state to examine whether it can save money by buying drugs from Canada and then seek the federal waivers necessary to do so. It’s scheduled to come up on the Assembly floor this week.

Consumer Watchdog
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