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What's the Law on Rx from Canada?

May 5, 2004, 5:15 PM by Jaine Andrews

What's the Law on Rx from Canada?

While officials can't agree on a true number, most estimates are that about 1 million Americans are currently getting their prescription drugs from Canada--including folks right here in KELOLAND. But what officials can agree on is that in nearly every case, the practice is illegal. And those who chose to continue to take advantage of less-pricey prescriptions from the North, or anywhere else outside the U.S., for that matter, are breaking both federal and state laws.

Norman and Gertie Breen don't look like criminals. After all, Norman used to drive truck for the U.S. Postal Service and Gertie worked as a meat wrapper at a local grocery store while raising the couple's two children. Still, federal and state agencies say they're breaking the law receiving prescriptions from Canada. Breen says, "I'm a person that if I live in America, I like to do my business in America. But after a while, I'm thinking, they're not making it fair."

As more KELOLAND residents join the Breens in taking advantage of savings from the north, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is throwing up a warning flag, saying it's illegal to import drugs under the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act. That said, the FDA's guidance on importing prescription drugs for personal use allows the agency to use its own discretion whether or not to enforce that law. South Dakota Attorney General, Larry Long, says "The grey area is whether or not the drugs that come in meet FDA regulations. And when the FDA determines that they do not, they occasionally take action to stop the importation."

The Breens aren't breaking any state laws, but any South Dakota company serving as a go between for people like them could be. Businesses like Canada Drug and ACH Health & Wellness insist they don't fit the state's legal definition of a pharmacy so South Dakota's pharmacy laws don't apply. Long, however, disagrees. He says, "In order for one of these operations to be legal, they must meet state law requirements for regulation of pharmacies and pharmacists."

Interestingly, all of this could change. Earlier today, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson asked President Bush not to stand in the way of efforts to legalize the whole process. It's the first time a senior administration official has conceded that legalizing prescription drug imports is inevitable and will save consumers money.

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