May 16 (UPI) -- Vermont became the first state in the nation to allow the importation of drugs from Canada after Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed a bipartisan bill Wednesday.
It's not clear when Vermonters will be allowed to import the drugs. The legislation requires the state's Agency of Human Services to first create a program that facilitates the importation of prescription drugs from Canada while also making sure those drugs meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's safety and effectiveness standards.
"The price for many drugs, especially specialty drugs, has gone sky-high," said Democratic state Sen. Virginia Lyons, a co-sponsor of the bill, according to CNN. "We've found that drugs from Canada are very safe and the equivalent of FDA-approved, and we could keep our costs down by having our own wholesale importer and allow our people to buy at this reduced cost. It's about time that happened."
The drug import plan will only be available to people in Vermont and not sold to people in other states.
Vermont is the first state to allow importation of prescription drugs from Canada, but other states, including Utah, Oklahoma and West Virginia have similar legislation in the works.
According to DrugWatch, prescription drugs in Canada are an average of 65 percent cheaper than in the United States.
In 2014, the average American spent $1,112 on prescription drugs, while the average Canadian spent $772.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying group that represents some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the United States, including Bayer and AmGen, criticized Vermont's plan to allow residents the ability to buy cheaper drugs from Canada, calling it "highly irresponsible."
"Patient safety must be our top priority, and our public policies should reinforce -- not undermine -- that commitment," the group's spokeswoman, Caitlin Carroll, said in a statement.