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Utah House approves measure to import Canadian drugs

Utah's House of Representatives on Feb. 14 approved, 39-31, a measure directing the state to develop a plan to import cheaper, wholesale, prescription drugs from Canada and make them available for purchase by residents.

If approved by the state's Senate and signed by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, the measure directs the state's health department to submit an application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, seeking approval to start the program.

The bill's Republican sponsor, Rep. Norm Thurston, acknowledged before the vote on the House floor that it is unclear if the HHS would approve an importation plan.

But he said: "We have to do something. If you don't ask, the answer is, 'No.'"

With state lawmakers saying they are tired of waiting for federal action on high drug prices, six states, including Missouri, Oklahoma and West Virginia, are considering importation bills.

Vermont's Senate could vote on a measure on Feb. 16 directing the state health department to seek federal approval to buy some drugs in bulk from Canadian suppliers and make them available for purchase through distributors.

Opponents on the House floor, however, raised questions, including those pushed by the lobby group for drugmakers, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, that importation could allow harmful counterfeits to slip into the U.S.

But Thurston countered that drugs would not be imported unless they were considered safe. He argued on the House floor that high drug prices also endangered safety. "When people can't afford their medications, bad things happen," he said.

The measures had faced strong opposition from drug companies, who have "hired a small flotilla of lobbyists" to oppose the bill, Thurston said in an interview.