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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

The Los Angeles Times
Feb 10, 2004

by Patrick McGreevy, Times Staff Writer

L.A. Urged to Buy Drugs From Canada;

Councilman says the U.S.-made pills are cheaper there and could save city millions.
The city of Los Angeles should buy pharmaceutical drugs from Canada rather than firms in the United States, potentially saving millions of dollars, City Councilman Dennis Zine said Monday.

Zine said he planned to propose today that the city seek permission from the Food and Drug Administration to purchase U.S.-made medications from Canadian suppliers for city employees in workers' compensation cases and healthcare programs.

In addition, Zine would like to allow Los Angeles senior citizens to buy discounted drugs from the city.

"Maybe this will turn the pharmaceutical industry around and show them that we are going to fight the gouging of the public in the United States," Zine said.

He said some drugs manufactured in the United States are shipped to Canada, where they are sold at much lower prices. As one example, Zine said, the same dosage of the allergy medicine Allegra costs $40.22 in Canada and $73 in the United States.

Other cities, including Boston and Springfield, Ill., have proposed purchasing pharmaceuticals from Canadian suppliers, although the FDA has not yet granted its permission.

"It's against the federal law. There is no way that safety can be guaranteed," said Merrill Jacobs, deputy vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Assn. of America.

Peter Pitts, an FDA associate commissioner, said the concern of federal regulators was that drugs shipped from Canada were often counterfeits made in Third World countries without the same standards facing American manufacturers.

"It's very unsafe," Pitts said. "Trading savings for safety is just not acceptable."

Jacobs said that if cities wanted to help consumers, they should provide residents with information on discount drug programs.

Zine said his proposal had the backing of other City Council members as well as Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Flanagan said the FDA was more likely to approve the purchase of drugs from Canadian suppliers if the city and other large jurisdictions joined those seeking permission.

"It comes right down to a political fight, and with a city the size of Los Angeles joining the fight, we think the FDA will act favorably," Flanagan said.

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