Senate Guts Drug Bill

The U.S. Senate gutted the latest attempt yesterday to legalize prescription drug imports from Canada and other countries.     Despite a lot of support for the plan from both Democrats and Republicans, senators ultimately decided to require that the Food and Drug Administration first certify the imports are safe and effective.     Federal officials have said for years they can’t do it. So the requirement, passed on a 49-40 vote, effectively quashed the imports effort.     Even if the bid for expanding the drug trade had made it through without any caveats, the administration said it would have recommended a veto from President George W. Bush.     The plan is also opposed by pharmaceutical companies with profit margins on the line.     And its fate will be a relief for some Canadian industry groups that worried about supply problems north of the border.     But the measure has long had broad popular support among Americans who pay among the highest prescription drug prices in the world because they aren’t controlled by government.     Democrats who took control of Congress in last November’s midterm elections made the issue a priority, saying Americans had voted for change.     A similar measure to import drugs was introduced in the House of Representatives.     Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who sponsored the imports, said arguments that imports would open the door to dangerous counterfeits are “nonsense” perpetrated by big drug companies protecting their profits. He acknowledged the safety certification voided his bid to legalize drugs from Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan and New Zealand.     Vermont’s Bernie Sanders argued that many Americans “are already supporting this legislation by getting in their cars and going over the Canadian border.” Drug companies, he said, are the “greediest, most powerful special interest” in the United States, spending $172 million U.S. on lobbying efforts in 2006.     The AARP, a non-profit group for people over 50 years old, had vigorously campaigned for imports, calling it a “national embarrassment” that people in the world’s most advanced medical system can’t get affordable medicine at home.      By Beth Gorham     CP/The Gazette – Montreal     Tuesday 08 May 2007