April 4, 2003

Members of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness accused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of “scaring seniors who are trying to get more affordable medicine,” a charge the agency rejected.

“You scare the hell out of seniors,” committee Chair Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said. Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) added, “You should be putting out pamphlets saying people have been going across the border … and there hasn’t been one problem.”

Only drug manufacturers and their wholesalers are legally allowed to import prescription drugs, but for years the FDA looked the other way as seniors bought drugs in Canada and Mexico for use in the U.S. The agency reversed itself after GlaxoSmithKline complained about the practice and cut off supplies to Canadian pharmacies who sell drugs across the border.

FDA Associate Commissioner for Policy and Planning William Hubbard Hubbard replied that he had “not been in touch with any sort of political interests in that way.” He added that the agency is enforcing the law against businesses, not individuals buying medications for personal use.

Subcommittee members said the FDA should find a way to allow safe importation of drugs from Canada.

Burton, the committee chair, said that he would “relentlessly champion the issue,” according to CongressDaily/AM. “This isn’t going away — I’m going to be chair … for six years, and you’re going to be here a lot,” Burton told Hubbard.

Meanwhile, in a direct challenge to the FDA, the Alliance for Retired Americans is resuming its “Rx Express” bus trips to Canada next month.

“These trips allow seniors to purchase their medications at prices substantially lower than they pay in the United States, and serve as a reminder that Congress has failed to enact legislation to solve the crisis, said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans.”

Groups and individuals who want to participate in the Rx Express should call the Alliance Hotline at 888/373-6497, Option 2.