Seniors, en route to Canada to buy cheaper drugs, stop in New York City

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Associated Press

NEW YORK – With a button pinned to her jacket that read “Drug Companies Make Me Sick,” Mildred Fruhling, 76, prepared Tuesday to board a train to Canada to buy the medicine she and her husband need.

The prescription drugs are available at home in Edison, N.J. But there, she said, she has to pay about $7,000 a year. In Canada, where she’s heading with more than 20 other senior citizens, she plans to buy a three-month supply for about half of what they cost in the United States.

“I don’t think it’s a fair scenario, so I’m going to Canada to get the word out that we have to change the system,” said Fruhling.

Along with her husband, Leonard, Fruhling is among two dozen people traveling by train to Toronto to buy their prescription drugs, which sell across the border at a fraction of the cost they go for in the United States.

The caravan, dubbed the Rx Express, started Monday in Miami and stopped in Manhattan on Tuesday to pick up more passengers and try to pressure the U.S. government to negotiate with manufacturers for lower prices, as is done in Canada. The train continues on to Toronto Wednesday morning.

“It’s criminal for this country to require patients, seniors, to travel 3,000 miles to get the prescription drugs they need,” said Jerry Flannagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a nonpartisan lobbying group, which organized the trip.

A similar trip was staged on the West Coast in August, when about two dozen Americans chartered a two-car train for a four-day whistle-stop trip from San Diego to Vancouver.

The foundation wants the U.S. government to cut Medicare costs – and the expenses of patients, many of them seniors – by negotiating bulk-purchasing agreements with pharmaceutical companies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opposes commercial prescription drug imports, arguing that it cannot vouch for their safety. Individuals, however, can buy as much as three months of medication for personal use with a U.S. prescription.

That’s where the Rx Express comes in.

“It’s an experiment and it’s a statement,” said Julia Morrison of Manhattan, who joined the group Tuesday in a midtown hotel. Participants expect to arrive in Toronto on Wednesday evening.

Morrison and others said they hope President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry address the issue at Wednesday’s presidential debate.

Not all the travelers heading to Canada were senior citizens.

Ann Streaker, a 32-year-old single mom living in Lakeland, Fla., said she was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the prescription medicine she needs costs nearly $500 a month, well outside her budget. In Canada, she should be able to buy a generic medication that will cost less than $50 a month.

“This is a public health issue,” she said. “It affects everyone.”

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