Virginia joins import drugs fight

Outrage and resistance is building nationally to federal Food and Drug Administration rules barring importing of prescription drugs. More and more states are joining the fight to get their seniors medication at reasonable prices.

They are facing an army of pharmaceutical company lobbyists that outnumbers the members of Congress. They succeeded in getting a drug bill passed that is almost entirely in their favor.

In November, The Washington Post commented: “Perhaps the most striking political victory for the pharmaceutical industry was the decision to reject provisions that would have allowed Americans to legally import drugs from Canada and Europe, where medications retail for as much as 75 percent less than in the United States.”

The latest to join the fray is the state of Virginia, where Delegate Dick Black (R-Loudon) has submitted legislation to permit the state to buy low-cost Canadian drugs for state employees. Black said such purchases would require consulting with the FDA and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Drug makers claimed importing these drugs posed a safety risk to senior citizens. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., takes issue with that stance. “This issue is a straw man,” he said. “When the United States government in October 2000 needed a vaccine for anthrax and didn’t have it, where did it turn? Canada! If it’s good enough for the U.S. government, why isn’t it good enough for the rest of us?” Emanuel said.

Black thinks his plan, though limited to state workers at present, will eventually cut drug costs for all consumers. “Americans pay the highest drug prices on earth,” Black said. “Our own trade barriers deprive Americans of needed medicines while subsidizing them overseas. It’s time for a free market approach to prescription drugs,” he said.

Yet Black does not favor trade agreements as the means. He dislikes NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. “I’ve never been a fan of NAFTA,” he said. “We have had too many communities devastated by NAFTA.”

Black added: “We don’t have free trade in medicine. It would seem what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The thing is we have to maintain restrictions for safety reasons.”

“We import food from Mexico and elsewhere. If we can import food, we certainly can import medicine,” Black said. “We are subsidizing drug prices for the world on the backs of U.S. seniors.”

Black said his bill would be introduced in the legislature this week. He said a majority of members in the House in Virginia favor importing medicines. “We’re joining a nationwide rebellion against soaring health care costs,” Black said.

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