Senate Set to Vote on Drug-Import Bill The Senate is expected to vote Monday on a plan to let consumers legally buy prescription drugs from other countries. Support for importing drugs has grown despite safety concerns posed by the Food and Drug Administration and the drug industry.
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Senate Set to Vote on Drug-Import Bill

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Senate Set to Vote on Drug-Import Bill

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

REBECCA ROBERTS, Host:

NPR's Joe Neel says that that will be true again today.

JOE NEEL: Billy Tauzin is a former congressman who's now head of the drug trade group PhRMA. He helped write the current law restricting imports. He told the Senate hearing in March that liberalizing drug imports would be a big mistake.

BILLY TAUZIN: Open those borders, take our closed regulatory system and open it up to those drugs, that's what the FDA is trying to tell you would be a serious mistake for consumers in America. That's the life or death decisions we have to make here.

NEEL: At that same hearing, Randall Lutter of the FDA said consumers buying drugs over the Internet are getting counterfeits that contain inactive or harmful ingredients.

RANDALL LUTTER: The Internet today has created extraordinary unregulated marketplace for the sale of unapproved drugs, prescription drugs dispensed without avail of prescription, and products marketed with fraudulent health claims.

NEEL: Though the FDA says the drugs sometimes can be harmful, it can't say how often that happens. Reports of injuries related to imports are relatively rare. As Lutter told the Senate panel, the FDA doesn't have a good handle on what's coming in over the borders.

LUTTER: We wish we had statistics on that. We do not. It's very difficult for us actually to count the volume of the drugs coming in at the border because we don't always know what parcels are containing pharmaceutical products.

NEEL: Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, is one of the sponsors of the plan to be voted on today.

BYRON DORGAN: The legislation that I have offered would make the supply of prescription drugs in this country and the supply that would come into this country much, much, much safer.

NEEL: The plan would regulate foreign drug exporters. It would allow U.S. consumers, pharmacies, and drug wholesalers to buy drugs and have them shipped to the U.S. from 19 trusted countries; including Canada, Japan, and parts of Europe. Only FDA-approved drugs would be permitted. FDA inspectors would visit foreign pharmacies 12 times a year. Dorgan says the goal is to lower prices.

DORGAN: My goal is not to force Americans to go to Canada to purchase prescription drugs, but rather to create a little competition in the marketplace so that we can put real downward pressure on domestic drug prices.

NEEL: Senator Mike Enzi is a Wyoming Republican.

MIKE ENZI: Just because you heard that everything is cheaper in Canada, doesn't mean that it is.

NEEL: Joe Neel, NPR News, Washington.

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