Kulongoski seeks waiver from feds to import Rx drugs from Canada

SALEM — Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requesting a federal waiver to allow Oregon to import prescription drugs from Canada.

In events in Medford and Portland, the governor also unveiled his “Pioneer Prescription Drug Project,” the structure for Oregon’s reimportation effort.

Since May, Kulongoski has been working with the Board of Pharmacy to develop a plan for reimportation that would contain safeguards to protect consumers and ensure affordability. In his request for a waiver, Kulongoski asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson for a response within 30 days. He sent the letter Aug. 19.

“Paying for prescription drugs is a daily struggle for many of our most vulnerable citizens, and we must act now — every day that passes is another day that Oregonians are trapped by the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs with no relief,” said Kulongoski, a first-term Democrat.

The waiver request is the last step that has to be completed for the state to begin importing prescription drugs.

Kulongoski was joined at both press conferences by representatives of the AFL-CIO’s Alliance for Retired Americans Oregon Chapter, and AARP; both organizations announced their support for the governor’s plan.

Under the Pioneer Prescription Drug Project, Oregonians will have access through their local pharmacies to safe, affordable medicines imported from Canada.

“Consumers will be able to take advantage of lower prescription prices while continuing to use their trusted, licensed Oregon pharmacists,” Kulongoski said.

Oregon’s Board of Pharmacy (OBOP) will serve as the regulatory authority to ensure the safety and authenticity of the drug supply in several ways:

• OBOP will implement stringent licensing requirements for Canadian pharmaceutical wholesalers. In order to participate in the Pioneer Project, Canadian companies will be required to meet the same safety standards OBOP requires of U.S. wholesale drug outlets.

• OBOP will require that medicines originate only from approved manufacturing locations in Canada. They will routinely test medicines for safety; establish safe labeling, tracking and shipping procedures; and closely monitor compliance with established procedures.

• Oregon pharmacists will be able to choose whether or not to participate in the Pioneer Project and only licensed Oregon pharmacists will be eligible. The Oregon pharmacists who elect to participate will have to register with OBOP and will only be allowed to import pharmaceutical products approved by the board and supplied by approved Canadian wholesalers.

• OBOP will require pharmacists to store inventories of imported medicines separately from the rest of their inventory and track them appropriately. Working with participating wholesalers and pharmacies, OBOP will also establish protocols for a cross-border recall process.

The Pioneer Project will also help ensure affordability by including only those prescription drugs for which potential savings can be demonstrated. A fixed dispensing rate will be established that will be regulated by the Oregon Board of Pharmacy to assure that Canadian price savings are passed along to Oregon consumers.

In order to provide the maximum benefit to consumers who need price relief most — and to streamline administration of the plan for Oregon pharmacists — pharmaceuticals available through the Oregon Project will not be eligible for reimbursement by insurance.   

Fourth District Congressman Peter DeFazio lauded the plan.

“I am pleased the governor is taking action,” said DeFazio. “While reimportation is not a panacea, it will help ease the stress on seniors and others who can’t afford to fill their prescriptions and pay their bills every month. While the Bush Administration, in concert with well-connected drug companies has resorted to scare tactics, claiming reimported drugs from Canada were unsafe, the truth is that the drug supply chain in Canada is safer and more closely regulated than the drug supply chain in the U.S.”

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