U.S. seniors descend on Toronto pharmacy

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A group of U.S. patients frustrated with the cost of drug therapy at home descended on a downtown pharmacy today to send a message to American political leaders — and fill their prescriptions at the same time.

More than two dozen patients from as far away as Miami spent several days travelling by train to Toronto, where they headed to the nearest Shoppers Drug Mart for drugs costing up to 60 per cent less than what they pay at home.

“This is a political statement,” said Jerry Flanagan, a U.S. consumer advocate who helped organize the so-called Rx Express, which collected patients from a number of U.S. states on its way to Canada’s most populous city.

“It’s a rolling protest, the Rx Express, to send a message to our political leaders that we shouldn’t have to travel 3,000 miles.”

The group chose Shoppers, one of Canada’s most familiar storefronts, to help counter suggestions in the U.S. that Canadian drugs are unsafe, Flanagan said.

“We wanted to come to a pharmacy where we could demonstrate to the American people that it’s just like any pharmacy you would see back in the United States.”

The U.S. government currently prohibits the re-importation of drugs from Canada, arguing there are safety concerns. Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said Americans can travel to Canada to buy a three-month supply of drugs with a valid prescription verified by a Canadian doctor.

The Toronto-bound Amtrak train departed Miami on Monday and stopped in dozens of East Coast cities to pick up passengers. The group includes 25 seniors or other ailing Americans from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

They argue that Canadian prescription drugs are 30 to 60 per cent cheaper because Ottawa buys drugs in bulk from pharmaceutical companies which lowers retail costs for consumers, and they want the U.S. government to do the same.

“It’s as much as saying, `Yeah, we know you have a problem, but you’ll have to deal with it on your own,”‘ said Mildred Fruhling, an Edison, N.J., resident who joined the excursion to show her support and lend her voice to the protest.

“Wal-Mart reduces prices through bulk buying, Costco does it, the Veteran’s Administration in the United States does it, but Medicare enrollees are not entitled to it? There’s something wrong.”

Flanagan’s lobby group, the Foundation For Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, estimates that buying Canadian drugs saves the average U.S. consumer about $2,000 US a year.

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

Skyrocketing drug costs have become a hot-button issue during the U.S. election campaign with some Democrats and U.S. legislators — particularly those in northern states — arguing the Bush administration should remove the ban on ordering drugs from north of the border.

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