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Utah Among States Considering Importing Prescription Drugs From Canada

Austen Diamond
Rep. Norm Thurston, right standing, is behind the bill to allow importation of prescription drugs.

A bill coming up for debate would make Utah the first state in the nation to allow residents to buy prescription drugs from Canada for less than they cost in the U.S. It’s getting pushback from pharmaceutical companies.

In the last year, physician and Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, said his patients have been sending their prescriptions to Canada to get cheaper drugs — including basic medications for things like asthma.

"And they say ‘my choice is to send this to Canada or to just not have it.’ They don’t know anything else to do. I don’t know anything else to tell them," Ward said. 

Ward spoke in support of H.B. 163, which was proposed by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo. The focus of Thurston’s bill is to create a federally approved pipeline to import about 20 different drugs from Canada to Utah.

"The exact same drugs — I’m talking about the same drugs manufactured on the same equipment in the same factories in the same places – in Canada cost 30 percent less than they cost here," Thurston said. 

Representatives of pharmaceutical companies are critical of the bill. 

"There’s no system that we’ve ever plotted out or developed by which we feel safe certifying medicines coming from a foreign country that we haven’t certified on our own being safe for U.S. patients," said John Clark, chief security officer for Pfizer Chief SEcu. 

Clark worries that patients could buy unreliable drugs from Canada on the internet.

Thurston’s bill first proposes to study how to create a safe supply chain from Canada to Utah pharmacies, before seeking approval from the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services. After that, the state would implement it.

Vermont, West Virginia and Oklahoma are among a handful of other states considering similar legislation. H.B. 163 passed narrowly in the House. Next it will be debated in the Senate.

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