By Tony Parra
PNT Staff Writer
State pharmaceutical officials have persuaded the Portales Medical Center to stop purchasing low-priced prescription drugs from Canadian drug companies via a Texas storefront.
The pharmacy officials say drugs from other countries must first be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But the U.S. House of Representatives in June passed a proposal allowing such drugs to be sold in America.
However, the U.S. Senate has not yet made it law.
Citing legal consequences that may ensue, PMC manager Monique McLean said she will no longer purchase Canadian RX Depot drugs for low-income patients.
“We had to stop due to the legal ramifications,” McLean said. “We started it to help people, but because of everything going on, it was too much trouble.”
However, the FDA is allowing patients to order the drugs online for themselves without facing legal ramifications.
The Texas State Board of Pharmacy said it will not allow the selling of the drugs unless the pharmacy is licensed in the state of Texas. The Canadian RX Depot is not.
Warning letters have already been sent to Canada Drug Services of West Texas and Canadian RX Depot storefronts in Texas to persuade managers to voluntarily shut down their operation.
The prescription drugs from Canada have been advertised to save up to 70 percent of the price for the same prescription drugs purchased in the United States.
The PMC had been ordering prescription drugs through the Canadian RX Depot ordering branch in Denton, Texas. Arthritis medication that was sold for $3 could have been purchased for $1.30 through Canadian RX Depot, McLean said.
The New Mexico Board of Pharmacy considers the importation of the drugs in violation of New Mexico law.
“They (Canadian drug companies) feel that they are not violating the laws and they think what they are doing is legal,” Jerry Montoya, director of the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy, said. “But if they (customers) don’t see a practitioner before they purchase their prescription drugs then what they are doing is not legal under New Mexico law.
“Under New Mexico law, if the drugs are not approved by the FDA then they aren’t legal. The prescription drugs can only come from an approved source and they (Canadian drug companies) are not licensed with us.”
The board sent a letter on July 3 to New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid requesting to stop the New Mexico businesses associated with the importation of foreign prescription drugs, Montoya said.
“There is a concern over the safety of the prescription drugs,” Montoya said. “The customers are not sure of what they are getting and it is putting them at risk.”
The Food and Drug Administration has sent out warning letters to different prescription drug store front companies such as Canadian RX Depot that they are in violation of FDA regulations.
“The Health Products and Food Branch does check their product safety,” Montoya said of Canada’s version of the FDA. “However, there is no way of knowing that those are the same drugs that they are exporting to the U.S.”
A warning letter was sent out to Rx Depot, Inc. of Arkansas and the letter entails that the company is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, 21 USC. 301. The letter also explains that the company is in violation of five other violations.
“The FDA has done stings and they have uncovered that some of the items are not approved in the U.S.,” Ladawna Brooks a pharmacist for Marty’s Pharmacy in Portales said. “My concern is the safety of these drugs and it’s just not legal.”
In June of 2003 the U.S. Congress passed a vote 62-28 to allow the importation of medications to the U.S. and this is what the Canadian storefronts are basing their legality on.
“People jumped at the chance to purchase the drugs, believing that it was legal after the U.S. Congress allowed the importation,” Brooks said. “However, the bill has not been ratified. It still has to be approved by the Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. It is not legal.”According to the American Association of Retired Persons, about 40 percent of the people on Medicare lack prescription drug coverage at some point each year, according to www.pittsburg.bizjournals.com.
“I am in favor of what the drug companies have been doing lately,” Brooks said. “They have been starting patient assist programs for patients that meet a financial criteria. The manufacturers and pharmacies have been footing the bill.”
Brooks did say that there are web sites where customers can fill out a form for the assistance, such as www.rxassist.com.
McLean noted that even though the Portales Medical Center will not order prescription drugs for patients any more, she will still give them the option of going onto the web site to order them if they decide to.