The pharmaceutical industry saw a major victory this week when a federal judge ruled that a federal ban on international drug importation trumps a law allowing Mainers to buy medications by mail from other countries, often at a deep discount — thus rendering the state statute invalid.

Whether the state will appeal the ruling hasn’t been decided. But a bill authorizing prescription drug importation from Canada was introduced in the U.S. Senate recently and should receive serious consideration as a sound — although temporary — solution to a longstanding problem.

The rising expense of medication is driving state and national efforts to allow drug imports. Many best-selling brand-name products doubled in price between 2007 and 2014. And according to a recent U.S. Senate committee report, generic medications have followed suit.

Maine’s first-in-the-nation importation law sailed through the Legislature in 2013. It was challenged later that year, though, when groups — including the Maine Pharmacy Association, the Retail Association of Maine and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — filed suit in federal court.

They claimed that allowing Maine patients to buy medications from outside the country posed a risk to public safety, because international pharmacies aren’t regulated as closely as their U.S. counterparts.

But Canada, a major source of imported drugs, has its own regulatory system, with procedures found to be just as rigorous as those of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act — a proposal introduced for the second year in a row by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. — calls for tight oversight of purchases from Canadian pharmacies.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also has signed on to the measure, which would allow Americans with a valid prescription from a U.S.-licensed physician to order up to a 90-day supply of medicines from a licensed Canadian pharmacy. Prescription drugs would have to have the same active ingredients, dosage form and potency as medicines that are approved by the FDA.

This measure won’t resolve the bigger issue: that the United States — unlike other countries — doesn’t negotiate with drugmakers. So our federal government misses out on an opportunity to reach the best deal for U.S. taxpayers, who fund prescription coverage for people on Medicare. And uninsured consumers wind up paying the full cost for the drugs that they’ve been prescribed, because they don’t have big insurers advocating on their behalf.

But passage of the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act would be a good first step toward ensuring some relief for some patients, and it deserves to be discussed and debated in Congress.

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