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The Vancouver Province (British Columbia)

U.S. seniors' drug train rolls into Vancouver;


Activists highlight need for cheaper drugs in the U.S.

by Ian Bailey, The Province
Aug 26, 2004

Elderly U.S. activists intent on saving up to 60 per cent on the cost of prescription drugs brought a key issue in the U.S. presidential election to Vancouver yesterday as they arrived to fill prescriptions written in the United States.

Twenty-five seniors from California, Washington and Oregon pulled into town on a two-car train dubbed the Rx Express chartered by a California-based taxpayers' group intent on highlighting price differences between the two countries.

From the Pacific Central Station, they headed for the offices of undisclosed Vancouver doctors to gain access to Canadian drugs at cheaper prices.

"Our seniors can't afford the medications they need," said Jerry Flanagan, a consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, based in Santa Monica, Calif.

"They are often going without meals, or having a very difficult time surviving without their medication.

"So once and for all, we're saying we need a nationalized prescription program for the United States, and to negotiate lower rates on behalf of seniors and other patients."

The price gap, linked to price controls in Canada, has prompted a number of cities and states to seek official access to Canadian prescription drugs even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is opposed to such imports, arguing Canadian drugs may be unsafe.

As Flanagan spoke to reporters, passengers from the train milled about, preparing to take their paperwork to Vancouver doctors they refused to identify.

They arrived following a trip that began in San Diego with prescriptions from U.S doctors. The plan was for them to go for a consultation with a Vancouver physician, who would write a Canadian prescription they could take to a pharmacy.

They were expecting big savings. A three-month supply of the cholesterol-reducing drug Lipitor, for example, costs $121 US in the States but only the equivalent of about $65 US in Canada.

U.S. President George Bush has been pressured to allow imports of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, and has suggested he might support the idea if the safety of the drugs could be assured.

John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, has said he supports imports.

"Whoever is elected president has to deal with this once and for all," said Flanagan.

Jean Scott, a 76-year-old retired civil servant from Portland, Ore., said she was only spending about $50 a month on drugs, but worried about future illnesses.

"I'm lucky. I have arthritis, bursitis. I'm concerned about getting one of the bad ones," she said.

Louise Smith, 76, of Seattle said a friend of hers had to eat cat food in order to save money for her drugs. She hoped to save 50 per cent on her drugs.

Patt Shuttleworth, vice-president of the B.C. Nurses Union which is offering support to the travellers, called for a permanent solution.

"The real solution here is not for Americans to be able to come to Canada to buy drugs, but to be able to buy drugs that are at a regular decent price in the states," she said.
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contact the author at: ibailey@png.canwest.com