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Canadian Drug Importation Program Clears Its First Hurdle In The Florida Senate

Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo

Legislation allowing less-expensive Canadian prescription drugs to be imported for sale to Floridians is moving forward in the Senate. Some of those who oppose the measure have questions about vetting drugs coming in.  

The measure’s sponsor, Senator Aaron Bean, thinks Floridians are being gouged at the pharmacy.

“Maybe you have fibromyalgia and you’re taking a drug called Lyrica. We pay $6.04 cents per pill in Florida. And yet in Canada, they pay 63 cents,” Bean said.

Bean’s bill, which has a House companion, passed the Senate Health Policy Committee Thursday. And a strike-all amendment filed by Bean has been adopted.

“With that strike-all amendment, we will set out to ask permission to launch the program,” Bean said. “We will get a vendor that will help quarterback the whole program. It’s only for certain drugs – it’s not every drug.”

Bean went on to list some of the drug categories that would be excluded from what would become the Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program.

“Pain control drugs, not included, cough suppression, not included, hormone replacement, any type of biological products, not included,” Bean said. “If it’s non-oral, meaning it’s injected, it’s not included.”

The Jacksonville Republican says when it comes to the safety of Canadian imported drugs, Florida consumers can trust that they will be vetted by Health Canada – what he calls the country’s equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But Don Bell, who spoke on behalf of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, is more than skeptical. Bell says he has more than three decades of law enforcement experience in Canada – and was formerly the director of intelligence for the Canada Border Safety agency.

“The bill will create a significant loophole that smugglers will exploit to traffick counterfeit medicines into Florida. Criminals will attempt to reap significant illicit profits from such a loophole,” Bell said. “This will significantly increase the black market for counterfeit prescription drugs, and endanger Florida consumers.”

Beyond what he says is a loophole, Bell asserts Canadian officials aren’t in a position to make guarantees.

“Canadian authorities and law enforcement are neither resourced or structured to guarantee the safety of trans-national drug shipment,” Bell said.

Jeff Johnson, state director for the American Association of Retired People Florida, thinks the bill would be a victory for Floridians who rely on medication.

“We hear from AARP members all the time who are struggling to pay the high cost of medicines. A lot of them have to make choices about rent or medicine, food or medicine – or cutting back doses, and that has a serious effect on their health,” Johnson said. “We believe this bill would create a safe pathway for them to access cheaper drugs from Canada, and make it possible for them to maintain their health as well as pay their other major expenses.”

The Senate bill will next head to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. Even if the legislation passes, Bean says the program will need a stamp of approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.