In recent months, we’ve seen a full-scale revolt over the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs in this country.
Two weeks ago, a high-level dissident executive from Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, denounced the pharmaceutical industry for resisting legislation that would allow imports of low-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. Just days later, the City Council of Montgomery County, Maryland, ironically the home of the FDA, added its name to a long list of cities and states that have defied federal law and passed legislation permitting citizens to buy medications in Canada. Moreover, eighteen state attorneys general have written the Bush Administration urging passage of legislation allowing prescription drugs to be imported.
“Stopping good importation bills has a high, high cost not just in money, but in American lives,” Dr. Peter Rost, the dissident Pfizer exec, declared at a rally on Capitol Hill in support of legislation that allow imports. “Every day we delay, Americans die because they cannot afford life-saving drugs.” (Thomas Ryan, the CEO of the drugstore conglomerate CVS, made a similar concession in May.)
In the veep debate, it was good to hear John Edwards blast the Administration for blocking the importation of drugs from Canada and tell Amercians–“We’re not going to allow it.” Sen. John Kerry has talked about prescription drug prices as well, but too often, in this campaign, the importation issue has been shoved under the rug. This, then, is a stealth issue whose time has come. An anti-corporate underground railroad has taken center stage in the legal vacuum, operating in the best tradition of direct action protest. Consumer advocates of all ages are organizing bus trips to Canada where US citizens can purchase cheaper drugs. (Savings run as high as 50 percent; prozac–the popular anti-depressant–costs $3.34 a pill in the US and $1.54 a pill in Canada, to cite one example.)
In St. Paul, Minnesota, the protesters are senior citizens who gather in parking lots, where they board buses so they can journey over eight hours to reach Winnipeg. (These trips are funded in part by Sen. Mark Dayton–a millionaire who donates his entire Congressional salary to fund the bus trips.) The trip takes about two days.
This rebellion is being joined by a bipartisan coalition of governors, citizens and state officials who are creating websites linking consumers to Canadian pharmacies. New Hampshire, for instance, includes a link to Canadadrugs.com on its official state website. Even the Republican Governor Craig Benson recommends Canadadrugs.com, which is regulated by the Canadian government. So far, the FDA–faced with a drumbeat of pressure from supporters of importation–has not acted to shut the sites down.