For several years, people who work for the state of Maine, the city of Portland and one large employer claim they saved some $10 million by purchasing prescription medicines through a Canadian mail-order pharmacy. But the savings ended last summer after the former state attorney general banned such businesses from doing licensed business in Maine. The move put an end to buying less expensive meds from brokers over the Canadian border.
Now, though, an effort is under way to reverse that decision. A state senator introduced a bill that would specifically license mail-order pharmacies in Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia so they can dispense drugs to Maine residents, MaineBiz reports. Existing law says the state must license a pharmacy that ships prescriptions inside Maine, but another section indicates Maine does not have authority to license pharmacies located outside the US.
The bill, which is called an 'Act To Ensure Consumer Choice in the Purchase of Prescription Drugs,' skirts the ban by including this key sentence: "The dispensing of drugs for personal use to an individual resident of the state from a mail order prescription pharmacy located and licensed in a nation referenced in (federal law) does not constitute the practice of pharmacy" (here is the bill).
If passed, the legislation may rekindle concerns over importing drugs from Canada, which was a contentious topic a few years ago and factored heavily in the push to eliminate counterfeit medicines, an issue that reappeared on radar screens in a big way last year when fake Avastin was discovered to have been ordered from facilities in Canada and elsewhere (read here).
Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry objects to the bill. In a statement to state legislature, MaineBiz notes that the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America trade group argues that passage would jeopardize patient safety for a variety of reasons, including the possibility of counterfeit meds entering the supply chain, and that savings would actually be minor.
PhRMA urged legislators "to consider the safety and liability concerns associated with importing and facilitating the importation of pharmaceuticals from abroad," and warned that "pharmacies that claim to be Canadian, Irish or British over the Internet might have no ties at all to (those countries). And many pharmacies based in these countries obtain their drugs from Third World sources such as India, Thailand and the Philippines" (here is the statement).
Last fall, the FDA and law enforcement authorities took various actions against more than 4,100 Internet pharmacies, including filing civil and criminal charges, seizing products and closing down web sites (see this). CanaRx, the Canadian broker that was shipping drugs to Maine employees until last summer, was previously on the FDA radar screen. The agency issued a 2003 warning letter for illegal practices that may harm consumers (here is the letter).
However, Chris Collins, a senior program advisor at CanaRx, argues that "these programs are not Internet pharmacies. They are a network of bricks-and-mortar pharmacies in four countries," he tells MaineBiz. "We're dealing directly with real pharmacies and pharmacists in countries that have laws and regulations that are at least as strong as those in the US, and maybe even stronger." And he claimed that savings ranged from 30 percent to 80 percent.