Senate Opens Gate for Prescription Drugs from Canada

July 12, 2006 ( - The Senate gave its nod Tuesday to legislation that would create a loophole excluding Canada from the Food and Drug Administration's ban against importing prescription drugs into the United States, the Associated Press reported.

Part of a $31.7 billion Homeland Security Department spending plan, the measure is an attempt to stifle the rising costs of prescription drugs in the country by allowing medicine from Canada, which is often cheaper, to be imported into the US.

The long debate surrounding this issue hinges on whether drugs made outside the country would be safe, as their manufacturing is not regulated by the FDA, and whether allowing this would make US borders more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.  

The proposal by Senator David Vitter, R-Louisiana, would bar Customs and Border Protection from stopping people that have doctors’ prescriptions for FDA-sanctioned drugs from bringing the medicine into the US from Canada. However, some oppose the plan for fear it will compromise border protection and put unsafe drugs into the hands of consumers.

Vitter also threw his weight behind a Senate bill in 2005 that called for a provision allowing foreign drugs to be reimported, which included a requirement for packaging of imported drugs to incorporate anti-counterfeiting technologies and a requirement that officials designate countries other than Canada that can export drugs to the US (See Senate Committee Endorses Drug Reimportation Provision).  

Health care costs are only expected to rise for individuals and for the government, according to a report released in February that showed that within a decade, $1 out of $5 spent in the US economy will go toward health care. The report estimates that this will push the total health care spending from its current 16.2% of the economy to 20% by 2015 (See Trend of Health Care Cost Increase Will Continue).

Even before this measure passed in the Senate, some states have been flouting the FDA’s restriction, which has begged the question of whether the power to regulate the commerce of prescription drugs falls with states or with the federal government.  

Nevada regulators threw its support behind state legislation that would make it easier for prescription drugs to be purchased over the Internet from Canada (See Nevada to Launch Canadian Drug Import Site Next Week).In March, the Oklahoma Senate approved a measure that would allow pharmacists and whole sale drug distributors to reimport less expensive drugs from Canada, Switzerland and EU member nations (See Drug Reimport Bill Advances in Oklahoma ).