Fierce opposition from the Food and Drug Administration and the Bush administration to a drug-importation bill crawling through Congress has put the jitters into a Scottsdale-based company that imports cheap prescription drugs into Arizona from Canada.
In 18 months, Scottsdalebased Prescription Drugs Canada has amassed a 9,000-customer database of people who order prescription drugs from Canada, where the government regulates the cost of medications.
Between low prices and a favorable exchange rate, thousands of Americans, mostly senior citizens, order medication from Canada. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy reported almost 70 Canadian pharmacies shipped almost $500 million worth of prescription drugs into the United States in 2002.
FDA officials contend imported prescriptions can be tampered with or filled improperly.
"The integrity of the American drug supply is at risk when you import drugs from foreign countries that aren’t regulated like the FDA regulates drugs here," said Hal Wand, executive director of the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy. "It’s purely and simply a safety issue."
Prescription Drugs Canada consultant Joel Korsunsky said the issue is more about drug companies guarding their markets.
"You and I know we’re dealing with a very civilized country of 25 (million) to 30 million people with a governmentcontrolled regulatory body comparable to the FDA," Korsunsky said. "We’re not talking about Third World countries, which is what the FDA is trying to bring into the picture to put the fear of God into people."
In 2002, 1 million packages of prescription drugs crossed the Canadian border without a single case of an American being harmed, according to a congressional investigation.
Last week, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed buying prescription drugs from Canada for state employees, a measure he said could save tens of millions of dollars.
"It’s currently against the law," Wand said. "People are prosecuting these companies."
This week, Congress will vote on the bill passed July 25 by the House, which legalized the reimportation of drugs from Canada and 26 other countries. Mexico is not on the list of approved countries.
"Until this is resolved and Congress can come up with an effective bill, the dilemma that your American resident is being faced with is ‘I can’t afford to be paying the prices if I have to pay out of my pocket in the United States. I’ve got to take my medication. What do you want me to do?’ " Korsunsky said.