by Mark A. Krohn, Esq., Partner
Jacobowitz & Gubits, LLP

In the last edition of the Mid-Hudson Senior Gazette I wrote about the current law and a few of the issues concerning internet pharmacies and prescription drug importation. In this issue we discuss many of the current issues and problems associated with buying prescription drugs over the internet, and will conclude by taking a look toward the future.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging it was alleged that Canadian pharmacists were re-writing on their Canadian prescription forms prescriptions issued by U.S. physicians. The Canadian pharmacists would take no responsibility for the therapy or outcome for the U.S. patient and, to make matters worse, U.S. state Boards of Pharmacy were prohibited from intervening if an error, injury, adverse outcome or death occurred resulting from drugs imported from a country outside the United States. This concern, coupled with those concerns over fake, too strong or too weak, mislabeling or out-of-date medications, highlighted in Part One of this article, has caused Congress to disagree concerning allowing Americans to import lower-priced medications. To make matters even more complicated, individual state governments are now challenging the position currently held by the White House, the Food and Drug Administration and the drug companies. Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia are actually reporting to their residents websites of pre-screened foreign pharmacies. Rhode Island now has a law licensing Canadian pharmacies to trade in that state. California has passed a packet of importation bills permitting imports.

Others are targeting drug-makers directly. The Minnesota Senior Federation, a grassroots group, has sued nine drug companies for alleged antitrust conspiracy in depriving Americans of supplies from Canadian pharmacies. All of these actions, as well as opinion polls, are putting intense pressure on Congress to change the law. Previously, the Bush administration and Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), blocked action on import legislation, even as 77 percent of Americans surveyed said they support changing the law. The Chicago Tribune has recently reported that U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) advised that Democrats and Republicans in both chambers will push again for a bill that will allow prescription drugs to be imported to help reduce costs for U.S. consumers. The bill will allow consumers to import drugs directly from Canada, while wholesalers and pharmacies could import FDA-approved drugs from the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. In 2003, a similar bill passed in the House but failed to pass in the Senate. Emanuel said that with bipartisan sponsors in both chambers, he is hopeful for the support to pass the bill. Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) will co-sponsor the legislation in the House, while U.S. Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) will sponsor the bill in the Senate.

As illustrated by this article, drug re-importation and existence of internet pharmacies is a hotly debated and complex issue. It is likely that the public demand for affordable drugs tempered by targeted legislation will be the best prescription overall.