AARP Maine is pleased to see the Portland Press Herald’s endorsement of the importation of prescription drugs from Canada (Our View, April 25). Thanks to strong legislative leadership, Maine is poised to become one of the first states to move to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada. This would mean big savings for Maine residents, but lost profits for big pharmaceutical manufacturers. Not surprisingly, groups backed by drug manufacturers are claiming there is no way prescription drugs can be imported safely. Their claims are false.

The reality is that America already imports prescription drugs or ingredients from other countries. Up to 80 percent of all active ingredients for U.S. pharmaceuticals are manufactured in other countries, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Forty percent of finished prescription drugs sold in the U.S. are made entirely overseas and imported here. In addition, the FDA has already imported prescription drugs safely in past years when the U.S. experienced drug shortages.

Maine’s bipartisan plan would put downward pressure on drug prices. It is important to note that the legislative proposals being considered in Maine would render the practice of personal importation completely unnecessary. Rather than buying prescription drugs from online vendors, Maine patients would be buying from their neighborhood pharmacy. Maine pharmacies would, in turn, be purchasing more-affordable prescription drugs from approved suppliers in Canada.

Specifically, L.D. 1272, An Act to Increase Access to Low-cost Prescription Drugs, would create a state-administered program to wholesale import a select group of drugs from Canada. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would require the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to apply for federal approval and certification of the program. The bill is modeled after legislation passed in Vermont in 2018, and the Vermont Agency of Human Services has identified between $1 million and $5 million in savings to be realized from importing prescription drugs from Canada. If L.D. 1272 passes, it will be easier for Mainers to save on FDA-approved prescription drugs through trustworthy local pharmacies.

The savings could be substantial. Many brand-name prescription drugs are available in other countries for half or less of what they cost in the United States. On average, the price of drugs in Canada is 30 percent less than in the U.S.

The most significant risk facing tens of thousands of Mainers is that they can’t effectively treat their illnesses because the medicine they need is too expensive. According to a February Kaiser Family Foundation poll, about one in four Americans taking prescription drugs found it difficult to pay for them, while one in 10 found it very difficult. What’s more, AARP’s 2018 survey in the state found that 86 percent of Maine voters 50-plus agree it should be legal to import prescription drugs.

Day after day, year after year, AARP hears heartbreaking stories from older Mainers who face grim choices because of the irresponsible greed of drug manufacturers. Sixty-two percent of Maine Medicare beneficiaries have at least one chronic condition, often requiring them to take multiple prescription medications as part of their treatment plan. In fact, the average Medicare beneficiary takes 4½ medications.

Do Mainers buy the prescription medicine they need to remain healthy and active? Do they skip doses or cut pills in half, taking risks with their health because they have no financial alternative? Or do they buy medicines they can’t afford and go without food, utilities or housing?

The passage of prescription-drug reforms is AARP Maine’s top priority. As a proudly nonpartisan organization representing 230,000 members in our state, AARP Maine recognizes that the high cost of prescription drugs affects all of us. AARP stands squarely behind Maine lawmakers pushing to bring down the cost of prescription drugs through L.D. 1272 as part of the group of bills currently being considered.

Research shows that that drugs manufactured in Canada are safe. We, as consumers, have to stop being fooled by Big Pharma scare tactics and support legislation that will drive down our costs because, at present, the exorbitant cost of our prescription drugs is making many individuals sick. Safe, FDA-approved importation is a common-sense solution that would help stop price gouging and lower prescription-drug prices for all Mainers.


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