Governor Brad Henry coming back with new drug re-importation plan

Saturday, August 20th 2005, 7:04 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Gov. Brad Henry is undaunted by the failure of his drug re-importation program during the 2005 legislative session.

"I absolutely intend to once again push my drug re-importation program next year," Henry told The Associated Press. "As I have always said, the status quo is simply not acceptable. There are Oklahomans across Oklahoma that simply cannot afford the medications they need to live."

He has experience in pushing what he terms as "challenging" legislation, such as a year ago when he prevailed in getting lawmakers to send a cigarette tax increase plan to a statewide vote over opposition from tobacco concerns. He said his re-importation effort is being vigorously fought by the pharmaceutical industry.

Henry commented last week after an announcement of a new Web site and telephone number -- (1-888-477-2669) to help Oklahomans gain access to discount drug programs.

It is part of a national program of the Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Henry said he believes the program is in "direct response" to pressure from governors, both Democratic and Republican, who are advocating drug re-importation legislation.

The Oklahoma governor said legislation enacted this year to create the Oklahoma Smart Card is similar to the pharmaceutical industry's program. He said such programs are good, but they primarily impact only low-income citizens.

He said they are not a long-range solution to skyrocketing prescription drug prices that are the No. 1 driver of high health care costs, a major problem for both individuals and businesses.

Henry favors a three-pronged effort to permit re-importation of U.S.-manufactured drugs from Canada and other industrialized nations.

He would authorize companies to help with re-importation of such drugs, create a state Web site to assist citizens wanting to buy such medications and permit Oklahoma pharmacies to re-import drugs to be sold only to Oklahoma customers.

The Federal Drug Administration's ban on re-importation is drawing legal challenges from some states, and Henry has said he stands ready to challenge the FDA in court if necessary.

The re-importation issue boiled over in Oklahoma in 2004 when the FDA went to court and got an injunction to shut down RX Depot, a Tulsa-based company that was assisting customers in obtaining drugs from Canada at huge discounts.

Henry, a Democrat, blames the defeat of his re-importation program on the Republican-controlled state House, where some critics labeled the plan as impractical.

First of all, said Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, "the biggest problem is it is not legal -- the FDA has jurisdiction on issue like that."

"We need to look at other programs that are available to provide low-cost prescriptions to folks who cannot afford them and to maximize other programs that the drug companies have," he said.

Sullivan saw little justification for Henry to continue to pursue re-importation. "I feel like it's a plan that can't be implemented and therefore is a false promise, he said.

"We really can't address this on the state level until the federal government has addressed it," the Tulsa lawmaker added.

Henry agreed that the ultimate solution must come from the federal level.

But in the meantime, he said, state officials should do everything they can to heighten the debate.

"We have discussed this at the national governor's meetings. We want to keep the pressure on. By pushing re-importation and other programs to provide less expensive prescription medication, hopefully we can ultimately see some action out of the federal government."