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Maine Residents Can Now Import Drugs From Foreign Pharmacies

After months of debate, Maine residents can now purchase prescription drugs from mail-order pharmacies in Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Australia. The bill had overwhelmingly passed the state legislature and Governor Paul Le Page failed to sign the legislation last night, meaning the act has now become law.

Known as the ‘Act to Facilitate the Personal Importation of Prescription Drugs From International Mail-Order Pharmacies,’ the bill was introduced after the former attorney general last summer banned Maine businesses from purchasing drugs from mail-order pharmacies, claiming state law was being violated. The move put an end to buying less expensive meds from brokers over the Canadian border.

But many state employees, as well as workers at the city of Portland and one large company, claimed they had saved some $10 million through Internet purchases over several years. For this reason, the bill had some backing from the business community and dissuaged the Republican governor from issuing a veto. Similarly, state and local governments may also save money. The state employee's union estimates savings of $6 to $10 million, according to Troy Jackson, the state senator who introduced the bill.

"In my area of the state, 15 years ago, people were organizing bus trips to go to Canada to get drugs for a cheaper price. For whatever reason, drug companies are selling same drugs through other countries for less than they do here and the issue is too important for people to pay more for life-saving medicines," Jackson tells us. "I'm a big proponent of 'Buy America,' but we're talking about people's health. If drugs are 40 percent higher in the US, well, I just can't stomach that. This is one way to rectify the problem."

As we noted previously, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America trade group objected to the legislation and argued that passage would jeopardize patient safety for various reasons, including the possibility of counterfeit meds entering the supply chain, and that savings would actually be minimal.

At the time, PhRMA urged the legislature "to consider the safety and liability concerns associated with importing and facilitating the importation of pharmaceuticals from abroad," and warned that "pharmacies that claim to be Canadian, Irish or British over the Internet might have no ties at all to (those countries). And many pharmacies based in these countries obtain their drugs from Third World sources such as India, Thailand and the Philippines" (here is the statement). We asked PhRMA for reaction today and will update you accordingly.

Earlier this week, Partnership For Safe Medicines, a non-profit that is aligned with industry and pharmacists, warned against the billt. “However well-intentioned Maine’s importation legislation may be, the health risks of counterfeit medicines far outweigh any cost savings. The bottom line is that the FDA cannot guarantee the safety or efficacy of any prescription medication from outside the US supply chain, and when medicines are not FDA approved patients are put in danger,” Marv Shepherd, who heads the group, told us.

“Americans have accessed medication internationally for over the past decade but federal prohibitions on personal drug importation, while not enforced against individuals, have deterred millions. With that regulatory weight lifted in Maine and with proper guidance more Americans will have access to safe and affordable medication,” says Gabriel Levitt of, a consumer website which evaluates the credentials of online pharmacies and provides drug price comparisons, in a statement.


Posted: June 2013