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Public Statements

Nightline - Transcript

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ABC News Transcripts

SHOW: NIGHTLINE (11:35 PM ET) - ABC

October 12, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: NIGHTLINE DRUG WARS
SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW, DEMOCRAT, MICHIGAN

Three words are the reason we can't do this, it's pharmaceutical industry profits.

TED KOPPEL

(Voice Over) Two leading voices in the US Senate when we come back.

commercial break

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) We asked both campaigns to designate someone to discuss the drug issue. The Bush campaign suggested that we talk to Dr. Bill Frist, who these days represents the state of Tennessee in the Senate, where he is also the majority leader. And from East Lansing, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan. She is with us, representing the Kerry campaign, and tell us, Senator Stabenow, what's magic about drugs from Canada? If, if they were really permitted to be imported, wouldn't you eventually reach a point where the pharmaceutical companies would just say well, we're not going to sell drugs to Canada at the lower prices anymore?

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW

Well, Ted, you know we need have real competition in this industry, the most successful and profitable industry in the world. Five minutes across a bridge or, or a tunnel in Michigan and you can lower your prices in half. In some cases, like with Tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug, it's more like seven or eight times lower. It's about $60 here for a month's supply, $60 in Canada, $360 in Michigan.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Oh, I, I, I under, I understand that, Senator, but what I'm saying is, if you ever, if you ever legalized it, then what would happen is you would have such a huge quantity of drugs coming from Canada, that the pharmaceutical companies would probably find it was more economical not to sell drugs to Canada.

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW

Well, I think what we would find is what has happened in Europe, where they do something similar, and that is, prices have come down, and volume has gone up. We know this can be done safely. The manufacturers bring back prescription drugs safely every single day. And we know now. We've had one of the vice presidents of Pfizer joined us a week ago, Peter Rost, in Washington, DC. He spent 20 years in Europe, where they had the cross-border competition between countries. He said it was done safely, it brought prices down, and the companies actually made more in volume, because people could finally afford the medicine that they desperately need.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Let me give the, let me give the ...

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW

There is no reason not to do this.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Let me give the, let me give the majority leader a chance to, to get a word in edgewise here. Senator ...

SENATOR BILL FRIST

Ted ...

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) ... it sounds terrific. Why not do it?

SENATOR BILL FRIST

Ted, it, it's really one word, and I say this as a physician. I say it as a majority leader or a Senator, whose obligation is to protect the American people, and it is safety. The law on, of the land on the books now, signed by President Bush, is that reimportation is legal, if our Food and Drug Administration can say it is safe. And both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, both secretaries of the Health and Human Services for the Democrats and the Republicans, both have said that the importation of drugs from Canada is unsafe today. So as one, as a physician, who recognizes that drugs are important, that a bill, more than a billion pills will be taken this year, our government says it is not safe today. The Canadian government said it is not safe. So, I can tell you as a policymaker, I'm not going to open up that border.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Let me, let me see ...

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW

You know what? Ted, may I actually ...

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Hold on just a second, Senator Stabenow, because I, I, I, I ...

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW

Let me speak to that, as well.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Hold on one second, please. I just want to see if I can get you, Senator Frist, to respond to what Senator Stabenow said before, citing the European example. If we can do it Europe ...

SENATOR BILL FRIST

I, I sure can, I, I sure can.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) If we can do it in Europe, why can't we do it with our Canadian friends?

SENATOR BILL FRIST

Well, because right now, and it's documented again and again by study after study, it's not as simply just having Canadian pharmacies send drugs across the border. Right now, we know that drugs are trans- shipped through Canada from countries like Turkey and Greece and Bulgaria and Iran. And all of sudden I mention Iran because clearly they have weapons of mass destruction. So what we're gonna say is we're gonna open our borders for trans-shipment through Canada. You can't really control that. But the Canadian government and our government says you can't control it today, coming into the United States for your mother or your wife to take. Potentially counterfeit drugs. Potentially drugs with contaminants. And the legislation that has been introduced into the United States Senate lowers the threshold. Doesn't increase the threshold, lowers the threshold of the FDA today.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Senator Frist, in, in rejecting the notion of acting on a bill on this issue before the election, you suggested that it's not something we want to rush into. Now, maybe I'm inferring something you didn't mean to imply, but it makes it sound to me as though with the proper preparation, you might be ...

SENATOR BILL FRIST

Absolutely. Absolutely.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) ... you might be prepared to go along with this measure.

SENATOR BILL FRIST

Absolutely. That's why in the Medicare bill, signed by the president, it says importation of drugs from Canada is legal once that we, our FDA, the most trusted branch of government today that we've relied upon for 70 years for your safety and my safety and the safety of just about every American, once they set up a system where it can be safe, and certified as safe, of course, we would allow it, and that's the law of the land now. Most people don't do, don't know that. It really just comes back to safety. Once we can prove it's safe, the law of the land says it can happen. And what we can do is set up a structure ...

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW

The bottom line is, right now, though ...

SENATOR BILL FRIST

... what we can do is set up a structure to make sure that it is safe. Right now, Canada says it's not safe.

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW

The bottom line is they're not trying to set that up.

SENATOR BILL FRIST

Right now, the United States says it's not safe. And if somebody who sets out to protect the American people, that's our first - responsibility. And in the bill that, that, that Senator Stabenow has introduced, she basically says within 90 days of now, drugs can come straight in from Canada, and within 12 months, they can come from 19 different countries. It's not safe now. We can fashion a structure, probably. And I'll work towards that. But that's not why I'm not gonna jam it through before a political election, when you hear the sort of political rhetoric that she's throwing around now.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Senators, I, I'm afraid, I'm, well, I'm afraid ...

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW

Ted, let me just say, it's four more years of the same if President Bush is reelected, it will be four more years of the same, which is inaction. And our families need help now.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) I think we've had an interesting foretaste of what's going to happen tomorrow night during the debate. I'm sure the issue will come up. But for the time being, Senators Frist and, and Stabenow, thank you both very much for joining us this evening.

SENATOR BILL FRIST

Thank you, Ted.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) I'll be back in a moment with a word about tomorrow's "Nightline."

ANNOUNCER

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commercial break

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) ABC News will have full coverage of the third and final presidential debate tomorrow, beginning at 9:00 PM Eastern, followed by a complete wrap-up on "Nightline." Our guests will be the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card, and the Democrats' vice presidential nominee, Senator John Edwards.

graphics: vote 2004

presidential debate

nightline

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) And that's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.

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