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The Detroit News Editorial - Yes: Reshipped drugs pass federal safety standards and would help decrease skyrocketing prices

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The Detroit News July 27, 2003 Sunday No dot Edition

HEADLINE: Yes: Reshipped drugs pass federal safety standards and would help decrease skyrocketing prices

BYLINE: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow

If the only part of the Senate Medicare bill that becomes law is the provision allowing reimportation of Food and Drug Administration-approved prescription drugs from Canada, we will have accomplished a great deal.

Access to lower-priced Canadian drugs will save American consumers and businesses billions of dollars and force price competition in the drug market without compromising our health and safety. I have been fighting for this change since I entered the Senate. Why? Because I believe Americans taxpayers deserve to get their money's worth.

Taxpayers funnel about $23 billion a year into research through the National Institutes of Health that produce many of these drugs. We also give drug companies billions of dollars in tax credits and deductions and other incentives to encourage further research and development to bring these discoveries to market.

Our return on this investment? The highest drug prices in the world -- and rising at three-and-a-half times the rate of inflation.

The price differences on prescription drugs between the United States and Canada are astounding. So are our potential savings. Some examples:

* A prescription for Prozac, used to treat depression, costs $303 here, but $140 in Canada -- a savings of more than 50 percent.

* A prescription for Zocor, used to lower cholesterol, costs $130 here but $67 in Canada -- another savings of nearly 50 percent.

* A prescription for Tamoxifen, an important drug in the battle against breast cancer, costs $341 here and $39 in Canada -- an almost 800 percent surcharge levied on U.S. consumers.

Reimportation would bring competition and puncture the bubble of artificially high prices Americans are forced to pay. Now some argue that allowing drugs to be reimported from Canada would lead to an influx of unsafe or counterfeit drugs.

That's not true. Canada's safety standards are virtually identical to ours. In fact, American drug companies reimport drugs from Canada and other nations every day.

Canadians are puzzled by our debate. A Canadian senior wrote to the Toronto Star and wondered: "Since most drugs sold in Canada were manufactured in the U.S., this raises a concern whether we are, in fact, exposed to a risk of being sold substandard drugs made by U.S. companies."

The answer: Of course not. That is why I felt perfectly safe escorting hundreds of Michigan's seniors across the bridge to Canada to fill their prescriptions. Not one of those seniors ever received anything less than a safe, FDA-approved drug.

Counterfeiting, however, is a problem we can address. But it has nothing to do with reimporting drugs from Canada. In fact, Health Canada -- the Canadian health agency -- recently issued an alert about counterfeit versions of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor. But those counterfeits originated in the United States.

Counterfeiting can be inexpensively solved. I have seen special tamper-proof technology that includes special inks that would let everyone in the chain of custody -- from the manufacturing plant to the wholesaler to the pharmacy to the consumer -- know that the prescription drugs they are getting are the exact ones made in the United States. Some of these technologies are already being used on our own currency and would cost under a penny per container.

We all know what is really at stake here. Before the first drug was imported from Canada, pharmaceutical companies would feel the competition and drop prices in the U.S., bringing them closer to what the rest of the world pays. Keep in mind that most European nations and Japan pay even less for these exact same FDA-approved drugs than Canadians do.

Reimportation will change that. Americans will finally pay fair prices to get the medicine they need, which they often helped pay to develop. And all I can say is: "It's about time."

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