Easing up the war on Canadian drugs

Helen Palmer Oct 4, 2006

BOB MOON: Ordering prescription drugs from across the border in Canada has been a gamble up to now. Customs agents have been routinely seizing packages of drugs arriving from the north by mail. But starting next week, they’ll be relaxing their crackdown, which will no doubt come as a relief to many seniors who depend on Canada’s lower prices.

Now, importing drugs is still illegal. So why the change?

From the Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has the story.

HELEN PALMER: Lyn Edes had been getting her heart meds from Canada for three years. Then, last November the package didn’t arrive.

LYN EDES: I called my supplier in Canada and they said they were sorry, but they understood a large shipment of drugs out of Canada had been seized at the border by the American border patrol.

Edes wrote to her senator, Florida Democrat Bill Nelson. Nelson investigated. He found up to 40,000 Americans may have had their drugs impounded by U.S. Customs. He filed legislation to get the policy changed and he got Republican senators to sign on. The crackdown started just two days after seniors began enrolling in the new Medicare drug plan last November, says Nelson’s spokesman, Dan McLaughlin.

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: We questioned whether this was a ploy by the Administration to force senior citizens to enroll in the President’s drug plan.

But the U.S. Customs Service says their only reason for impounding the drugs was to protect U.S. citizens. Spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger:

LYNN HOLLINGER: We did a recent sampling and we found that 10.5 percent of prescription drugs that were coming through were indeed counterfeit.

Hollinger says the agency’s policy’s changed now. In the future they’ll carefully scrutinize every package and only stop those they suspect contain phony drugs.

But they’ll no longer routinely seize those that come from Canadian Internet pharmacies. That’s good news, says Lyn Edes, the Florida senior whose complaint about her missing drugs helped get the policy changed.

EDES: There’s a lot of senior citizens that are going to be happy with this change. And that makes me happy.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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