DENVER (CBS4)– Some lawmakers are proposing a bill to allow Coloradans to buy prescription drugs from Canada to save money. A mom whose son died from a counterfeit drug says her son’s death is a warning to anyone who thinks importing prescription drugs is a good idea.
Carrie Luther says her son Tosh had a severe case of hives. The itching was unbearable, she says, so a friend gave him a drug to help him sleep.
“He took this quarter of a Xanax and died,” said Luther.
The counterfeit Xanax would kill people in 29 states. A “60 Minutes” investigation found it was one of several fake prescription drugs that have been shipped to the United States, from Canada, among other countries.
But the high cost of prescription drugs has several states, including Colorado, looking to import drugs from Canada. Lawmakers say we pay twice as much as Canadians for name brand drugs and 20 percent more for generics because the Canadian government has price controls. They say Coloradans are already importing drugs from Canada; they just want to make it safe.
“We have to justify and show that we will bring these in safely. We’d have to do some type of testing and stuff to make sure they’re coming in. We’d have to comply with the federal requirements that are done,” says Sen. Robert Rodriguez, the sponsor a bill that would create a Canadian drug importation program in this state.
Rodriguez, a Democrat representing Denver, says the state would import drugs from a Canadian wholesaler, test them for safety and then ship them to pharmacies.
“This is not for all drugs. It’s for the high priced consumer drugs,” said Rodriguez.
But opponents, including Shabir Imber Safdar, Executive Director of The Partnership for SAFEMEDICINES, says there’s no way to guarantee safety.
“It’s basically trying to dip your toe into a global counterfeit criminal ring and try and get the safe medication out of it and it’s just not possible,” said Safdar.
He says it’s not feasible either. Canadian pharmacies and wholesalers say they already have drug shortages. Several FDA commissioners also say screening drug imports is cost prohibitive.
Luther says, in the end, it doesn’t matter how cheap a medicine is if it’s unsafe. Her son would be 32 years old today, “I get to tell his story over and over and over again to save lives and that’ll be his legacy.”
Lawmakers say if they can’t ensure safety, they won’t import the drugs. Under the bill, the state would draw-up the program and then submit it to the federal government, which would only approve it if it poses no safety risk and saves significant money.
Colorado is one of six states considering legislation to import drugs from Canada. Utah and Vermont have passed laws and are awaiting federal approval. Both Pres. Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have said they support drug imports from Canada.