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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

The Davis Enterprise
Aug 24, 2004

by Crystal Ross O\'Hara

Drug train travels through

As Davis residents slept Monday night, a train rolled through town with more than two dozen passengers en route to Canada to buy prescription drugs.

Passengers on the "Rx Express" hope to draw attention to high drug prices in the United States and add to the increasing call for the government to be permitted to negotiate a national bulk-purchasing program for pharmaceuticals, which they believe would reduce costs.

Proponents say Canadians buy their prescriptions medications for 30 to 60 percent less than Americans because of bulk prices.

"The reason other industrialized countries get such a good deal on U.S.-made drugs is that those countries negotiate bulk discounts on behalf of their patients," said Jerry Flanagan, of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which organized the trip. "In the U.S., the drug companies are allowed to charge whatever they want."

Traveling on two private cars attached to an Amtrak train, their journey began Monday in Southern California. They are expected to arrive in Vancouver today.

There passengers, most of them senior citizens, will be seen by a physician, present their prescriptions to a Canadian pharmacist and purchase three months worth of drugs - the most allowable under current laws.

Sacramento resident Terelle Terry, 70, said Monday a prescription she needs to maintain her bone health costs $100 per month. She expects to pay 40 percent less for that prescription in Canada.

Prescription savings touted by the Bush administration as part of the controversial Medicare overhaul are a farce, according to Terry. She noted the drug she needs used to cost $70 a month, but the prescription price was raised following the introduction in June of the Medicare discount drug cards.

She said high U.S. drug prices are also a result of customers paying for expensive pharmaceutical advertising campaigns and for the cost of researching and developing drugs, which is already subsidized by the government.

Terry learned of the trip to Canada through her membership in the Gray Panthers, an organization of senior activists, and decided immediately to join the protest.

"I don't intend to be collateral damage in Bush's drug war against the elderly, the disabled and the ill," she said.

A survey released earlier this month by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found that almost eight in 10 people surveyed favored allowing Americans to import drugs from Canada if they can get a lower price.

But another taxpayer organization, Retire Safe, believes Americans can find lower drug prices in their own communities by shopping around and using the new Medicare discount drug cards.

Michelle Presari, vice president of the organization, noted another Kaiser study found the discount card provides seniors and people with disabilities savings of 17 to 24 percent and that buyers who use U.S.-based mail-order pharmacies can save up to 32 percent.

Buying drugs from other countries and particularly from foreign Web sites is a dangerous practice, Presari said, adding that many will use the Canadian flag as "marketing tool" when the company is actually based in a Third World country.

"I think it's a shame that seniors think they need to go outside their communities to get safe, affordable prescription drugs," she said.

Flanagan counters that the Medicare law does not directly address U.S. prices, which affect all Americans, not just seniors and the disabled.

"If you are wealthy, you can stay healthy. If you're not, you have to do without," he said.

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