Originally created 03/17/04

AARP campaigns to legalize drug imports from Canada



AUSTIN, Texas -- The nation's largest seniors group launched a campaign Monday to make cheaper Canadian drugs available to Americans.

AARP, which has 35 million members, said it will lobby drug companies, Congress and the Bush administration to legalize the imports. The group also is running TV and newspaper ads nationwide.

Increases in prescription drug prices - the fastest-growing item in health care - and the partisan battle over Medicare have given the topic greater prominence in Congress and on the campaign trail.

"AARP is committed to increasing our efforts to educate, advocate and litigate, if necessary, to help all Americans afford the drugs they need," said Luis Wilmot, director of AARP Texas.

Importing drugs into the United States is illegal, but people seeking cheaper prices can find ways to do so on the Internet. Thousands of Americans get their prescriptions filled in Canada, where brand-name medicines can cost half the price because of tighter government controls.

The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. pharmaceuticals industry oppose the practice, saying they cannot guarantee the safety of imported drugs. Supporters argue the industry is just seeking to keep prices high.

The Bush administration has mandated a study of whether and how importation could be done safely. The report has a December deadline.

At least five drug companies, citing supply and safety concerns, have limited shipments to Canadian pharmacies to try to keep drugs from being sold to Americans.

Minnesota and Wisconsin have established Web sites to help residents buy drugs from Canada, and Springfield, Mass., and Montgomery, Ala., have set up programs for city employees to buy Canadian drugs.

On the Net:

AARP: http://www.aarp.org