Prescription drugs are crossing borders to buyers
TORONTO, Ontario (CNN) -- Last year, the United States Congress passed legislation allowing pharmacies and other prescription-drug wholesalers to import medicines from certain other countries where prices are lower. Citing safety concerns, the Clinton administration vetoed the bill.
But the issue is far from decided, because when the Internet becomes a prescription-drug marketplace, international borders grow even more questionable.
Jerry Redwine estimated that he and his wife save nearly 33 percent a year by buying their prescription medicines from Toronto-based Internet retailer thecanadiandrugstore.com.
"I calculated our medical costs at over $10,000 a year," said Redwine. Medicare does not cover prescription drugs.
Among other factors, government controls help keep costs down in Canada. Thecanadiandrugstore.com advertises that consumers can save "up to 50 percent" by ordering on the Internet. On average, Canadians pay 20 percent to 50 percent less than people in the United States do for the same medications.
"I didn't feel like I was doing anything illegal," said Redwine. "If you can walk across the border, or drive across the border and bring it back on your person, I certainly should be able to get it through the mail."
The Redwines sent the online pharmacy their prescriptions and got several shipments before receiving a warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA said it was holding Redwine's pills for high blood pressure and asthma at the border.
"They are very important to me," said Redwine. "I have to have them on a daily basis."
Billy Shawn, president of thecanadiandrugstore.com, said he doesn't understand FDA's decision to interfere in the lives of senior citizens who are looking for a way to save money.
"We buy medication every day from the manufacturers," said Shawn. "It's brand-name medication. It's exactly the same as what people are buying in the U.S. and other countries."
FDA says it is concerned over product safety. But Redwine's cholesterol-lowering prescription -- Lipitor -- was held up even though it is recognized as safe.
U.S. Representative Gil Gutknecht, a Republican from Minnesota, was critical of FDA's action.
"Apparently the people who are sending out these threatening letters to seniors have not read their own Web site," Gutknecht said. "Because clearly, Lipitor is a legal drug in the U.S."
Congressman Gutknecht favors allowing prescription-drug imports because, he says, they will help to lower overall drug costs.
"My long-term goal is that the local pharmacist will have access to prescription drugs at world market prices," he said.
Once the Redwines sent FDA a copy of their prescriptions, the couple was allowed to continue receiving their mail-order shipments from Canada.
To Gutknecht, such options only make sense.
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