From The Advocate:
Senate backs ban on drugs imported into U.S.
By GERARD SHIELDS
Advocate Washington bureau Published: May 8, 2007
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. David Vitter suffered a setback Monday in his 2004 campaign pledge to allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada when the Senate voted 49-40 to approve legislative language that essentially nullifies the practice.
The Senate backed an amendment by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in a Food and Drug Administration reauthorization bill that would require the agency to ensure the safety of drugs coming into the country, a practice known as reimportation.
Because the FDA has said it cannot promise that drugs from other countries are safe, President Bush had threatened to veto the legislation if the reimportation language was in the bill.
“It’s a sad, sad vote in my opinion,” said a visibly dejected Vitter, R-La. “Once again, I think the big drug companies have proved that they’re the most powerful and best-financed lobby in Washington.”
U.S. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was one of 15 Democratic senators who voted for the Cochran amendment. Landrieu called the vote a matter of safety.
“I think it’s very important for us to open the opportunity to import cheaper drugs into the country,” Landrieu said. “But it’s very important for those drugs to be safe.”
Vitter said he was disappointed with Landrieu’s vote because she had voted last week to allow the reimportation language to come to the Senate floor for a vote.
“It’s one thing if you’re against reimportation and you have the guts to vote against the language last week,” Vitter said. “To try to have it both ways is really disappointing.”
Landrieu saw no conflicts in her votes, she said.
“I don’t think a vote for Cochran was a vote against importation — that’s some people’s view,” Landrieu said. “A vote for Sen. Cochran’s amendment is to just make sure that the drugs that are being imported from Canada are safe and can meet the standards that Americans have become accustomed to.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that passing the reimportation measure offered by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would have saved American consumers $50 billion over 10 years.
Prior to the vote, Dorgan held up two bottles of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, one made in an FDA-approved plant in Ireland, the other American made. The American medicine is priced double its Irish counterpart, Dorgan said.
Cochran, who questioned the consumer savings estimates, cited recent media reports about American deaths caused by counterfeit drugs from China to Panama.
“Thousands have died as a result,” he said.
Supporters of the Dorgan amendment said they thought the legislation had enough safeguards to protect consumers.
Vitter, meanwhile, said won’t give up on his pledge.
“I’m still confident we’re going to pass it fairly soon.”
Drug imports: A comparison of pricesA comparison between U.S. and Canadian prices for 90-dose supplies of some commonly prescribed drugs, as compiled by the office of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., a proponent of allowing drug imports. All prices are in U.S. dollars:
Effexor XR for Depression
US - $302
Canada - $169
Lipitor for Cholesterol
US - $321
Canada - $164
Neurontin for Seizures
US - $148
Canada - $103
Nexium for Heartburn
US - $417
Canada - $269
Plavix a Blood thinner
US - $370
Canada - $253
Prevacid for Heartburn
US - $420
Canada - $213
Zocor for Cholesterol
US - $179
Canada - $137
Zoloft for Depression
US - $249
Canada - $164