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Texas and Canadian Pharmacy Groups Address Prescription Importation

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

"Raiding Canada's medicine chest will not solve the problem here in the United States," said Marc Kealey, CEO of the Ontario (Canada) Pharmacists' Association as he joined with Texas pharmacy industry officials today to announce a consumer awareness campaign regarding the dangers of prescription drug importation.

Kealey was accompanied by Eddie Klein, president of the Texas Pharmacy Association (TPA), for the kickoff of TPA's new advertising campaign, "Waive Goodbye to Your Rights," as well as the newly drafted "Texas Pharmacy Bill of Rights."

Klein said the consumer awareness program is one of several from the last 18 months, all funded by TPA. The association hosted drug importation forums and invited health care professionals to school them regarding the risks of drug importation. He also cited the involvement of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its recent awareness campaign, "Looks May Be Deceiving."

Klein said every independent pharmacy in Texas will receive materials regarding the TPA campaign and the Bill of Rights, aimed at warning consumers that their legal rights go away when they order drugs from foreign Internet sites.

There are 10 issues listed in the Patient Bill of Rights, said Klein. While all are important, he said four are critical, including:

- The right to an FDA-approved medication

- The right to pharmacists who stand behind the drugs they dispense

- The right to discuss prescriptions with a pharmacist

- The right to know the source of a medication

All of those rights are waived when a prescription drug purchase is made via the Internet, said Klein. He noted that the state of Illinois has a program promoting the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada. While the Canadian drug distribution system is as strong as that of the United States, said the TPA president, one-third of the Internet drug sale sites that say they are located in Canada are not, and many are located in areas such as India and Bangladesh.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), a registered pharmacist, said in her 25 years as a pharmacist the industry has undergone "tremendous change." While technology has caused many pluses, she noted, it also has allowed consumers many outlets for prescription drugs. In the local community, consumers can be assured that all of their prescription drugs will be FDA-approved, said the senator. There are solid distribution controls in Texas and Canada, she said, but this campaign is directed at pharmacists to ensure that they inform consumers that when they purchase drugs on the Internet, "You waive your rights goodbye."

Van de Putte cited the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." But she said that because of the rising costs of prescription drugs, "Consumers are looking for a break." They look to buy prescription medications for loved ones at reduced rates. Van de Putte warned, "Shop carefully. Please beware. Many Internet sites are scams." She said when patients rely on unapproved, unregulated sources for prescription drugs, they "take their life in their hands."

Dr. Morris Shepherd, a pharmacist and faculty member of the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas, said prescription drug importation creates a "unique threat to the health care system," for both physicians and consumers. With imported drugs, consumers don't know the source or the quality of the medications, he said. While the reason for importing drugs - cost - is understandable, these medications still provide an effective tool for treatment of disease, relief of symptoms of illness and disease and disease prevention.

Shepherd said finding affordable medications is often a difficult task, especially for the more than 40 percent of Americans who take at least one prescription drug and the 50 percent of Americans over age 65 who take as many as three. However, he noted, "People want cheap drugs, but not one that is poor quality."

"The American public seems to think that importation is the silver bullet," said Shepherd. However, rogue Internet sites with no addresses and that offer lifestyle drugs and limited quantities and quality are not the answer. He said many such sites are operated by criminals, felons and persons linked to drug cartels. The bottom line, said Shepherd, is Texans are being "duped" into thinking they are purchasing U.S.-equivalent products. "They are not the same," he said, adding that fake drug problems are not just an American concern, but also a worldwide concern. "Safety is the number one issue here."

Kealey said Canada has one of best health care systems in the world and one of the best prescription drug programs in the world. While Canada may be a safe place to get drugs, he said, "We're advocates for good quality care for patients."

The Canadian pharmacist said cross-border importation of drugs poses a "huge threat" to consumers, with health care susceptible to compromise if consumers don't have a relationship with their pharmacists. Internet sales of prescription drugs said to be from Canada poses a "serious problem," doing away with face-to-face "care and counsel."

"Medications are potent and patients need proper care to ensure they are prescribed and taken correctly," said Kealey. "Drugs are a therapy. They should not be treated as a commodity."