WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- A tri-partisan group of Congressmen attempted to drum up support Thursday for legislation introduced in the House last week to levy fines on drug companies that prohibit their products from being shipped by Canadian pharmacies to Americans.
The legislation was a response to an announcement by prescription drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline that it would stop supplying medications to Canadian pharmacies unless they agreed not to sell them to U.S. customers.
The bill "would prohibit discrimination against U.S. consumes in the form of contract provisions, limitations on supply or any other measure that has the effect of denying U.S. consumers access to prescriptions drugs from the Canadian market," Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a sponsor of the legislation, said during a briefing on Capitol Hill.
Under the provisions of the bill, companies found guilty of discriminating against Americans would face a $1 million fine for each infraction.
"The bottom line here is that GlaxoSmithKline has no right in telling Americans that they cannot continue to purchase safe and affordable prescription drugs in Canada," said Sanders, who was joined by co-sponsors, Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y.
Seniors as well as other groups have begun crossing the border into Canada to obtain prescription drugs because they can be on average 40 to 50 percent cheaper than in the United States. Some Americans have also started ordering drugs from Canadian Web sites, which then send them through the mail directly to U.S. addresses.
Tamoxifen, a drug used to treat cancer and costs about $117 in the United States, can be obtained for about $22 on a Canadian Web site called crossborderpharmacy.com, a savings of more than 80 percent, according to information presented by Sanders. The depression drug Prozac, which sells for about $100 in the United States, costs about half as much in Canada. Sanders cited several other drugs that sell for between 38 percent to 67 percent cheaper across the border.
The Congressmen accused Glaxo of trying to block Americans from buying cheaper drugs in Canada to ensure they maintain their profit margins.
"The pharmaceutical industry will say and do anything to protect their profits, regardless of the consequence of their actions on the real lives and health of American people," Sanders said.
"If this policy is not reversed you're going to see every (drug) company ... start doing the same thing," Burton said. "We need to send a message to every pharmaceutical company in the world."
However, Glaxo spokesman Brian Jones said, "These congressmen are attempting to punish (Glaxo) for stopping cross border sales of medicines that the FDA has said violate U.S. law and pose a risk to patients." American patients "would be better served if these Congressmen worked to support a Medicare prescription drug benefit," he told UPI.
"I, and I think I speak for everyone up here, do not believe that Americans being forced to buy their medicine in Canada is the ideal solution," Sanders said. "I would much prefer that the prices in this country were lowered substantially so that Americans would not have to do that. But the political reality is that the pharmaceutical industry is the most powerful lobby in DC, has hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal, and they have some very powerful friends in the White House and in Congress."
Asked about the legality of bringing drugs purchased in Canada back into the U.S., Sanders told UPI it was completely legal as long as it was on an individual basis. He noted many Americans -- including himself and other members of Congress -- have crossed the border to bring back drugs and none of them has been arrested.
The bill so far has the support of 49 members of Congress and they hope to gain support for a similar bill in the Senate, Sander's spokesman Joel Barkin told UPI.
Glaxo will "unreservedly" try to garner support for defeating this bill, Jones said.
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