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I’m telling you Canadian drugs are safe but vote against importation.

In the Utah House of Representatives, Health and Human Services Committee, there was a meeting a few weeks back to discuss Rep. Norman Thurston’s drug importation bill. The bill’s aim is to lower prescription drug costs for Utah by importing lower-cost medications from Canada. The committee passed it 9-2. A week later, the Utah House passed the bill 39-31! But in that committee meeting, during the public session where organizations came out in favor and against the bill, something unique happened.

During his remarks against Thurston’s drug importation bill, one Mr. Peter Pitts said, and I quote from the audio clip: “I will tell you one thing in defense of Canada…If you drive up across the border and you go to a brick and mortar pharmacy and you get a product. That product is safe and effective; just as safe and effective as a U.S. product.”

I’ve followed and written about Big Pharma’s positions on importation for over 15 years. Its mantra and that of its hired guns is that the U.S. system for regulating pharmaceuticals is the world’s “gold standard.” As you’ll discover, Mr. Pitts, as I see it, is one of those hired guns and a notable one. Therefore, it’s great and fun to have him on the record, clearly (emphatically) stating that Canada’s system for regulating prescription drugs and the drugs sold in Canadian pharmacies are just as good as the ones sold here. That means Canada is the Gold Standard, too!

Listen to the whole hearing.

Note to all my fellow Americans that didn’t already know: if you live close to Canada and can’t afford your medication, then, according to Mr. Pitts, the medication there is damn good…not to mention a lot less expensive. Did you also know that federal law bans U.S. Customs Border Patrol from preventing people who are traveling back from Canada from importing small quantities of prescription drugs when they are for personal use? See: Can I drive to Canada to fill a prescription?

Who is this guy? Who cares?

Mr. Pitts, once an FDA Associate Commissioner for External Relations in the Bush 2 administration, is the president of an organization called Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI). He is also a public relations specialist who has spent a good part of the last 15 years advancing public policies in a manner that pleases big drug companies. In a Politico article from 2008, we’re informed that CMPI’s biggest contributors in 2006 were Pfizer and the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America. That’s why I care about what Mr. Pitts had to say.

Bizarrely, earlier in his testimony against HB 163, Pitts warns the Committee as follows: “What Rep. Thurston is talking about is not providing the people of Utah with drugs that the Canadian population is using. He is talking about drugs coming into the U.S. through Canada.” That’s misleading – at a minimum. Thurston is clearly talking about drugs that Canadians buy at Canadian pharmacies.

Pitts’s point about drugs coming through Canada appears as a tactic to confuse Utah legislators. Yes, like the U.S., where many of the medications we buy at CVS and Walgreens pharmacies are foreign-made drugs, Canada imports a lot of medication, too (and a lot of it comes from the United States!). But it is still the same medication sold in Canadian pharmacies.

This Utah bill is bringing out a lot of great info about importation, safety, and prices, and making Big Pharma’s friends trip up over themselves.

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