New England Senators argue over imported pharmaceuticals

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Olympia Snowe R-Maine

Thursday, April 21, 2005

In an unusually contentious hearing, Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) argued the pros and cons of allowing the importation of drugs from countries where there are good safety controls and prices that are 50 to 70 percent below U.S. prices.

Laws to legalize that practice, which has found favor with 77 percent of Americans in a poll released on Wednesday, are under attack by the American drug makers and their friends in Congress.

Sen. Gregg, his face turning pink with anger at times, accused Senator Snowe of throwing away 100 years of federal law by advocating the bill.

Snowe replied that the bill would bring foreign drugs, mainly from Canada, Europe and other countries--provided those drugs already have FDA approval--under the aegis of the FDA. Former FDA commissioner David Kessler agreed during testimony, and said that legalizing prescription imports from Canada and elsewhere would make for safer prescriptions for U.S. consumers.

Snowe said, “We send men and women up to space every day, and we can’t figure this out?”

Senator David Vitter, R-La, weighed in on Snowe’s side, “Safety is a huge reason we should pass legislation like this,” he said.

Reporters said the two jousted back and forth for quite a while, not allowing each other to finish an answer, each accusing the other of failing to answer.

“I am answering your question,” Snowe said at one point. “You don’t like the answer.”

Opponents say that curbing drug prices could discourage research into new products. Snowe countered that drug development in the United States totals $32 billion, compared to $26 billion in Europe.

The two feuding lawmakers live on northern New England’s Canadian border and are under pressure from senior citizen’s groups to allow American consumers to import drugs at cheaper costs.