Rhode to Nowhere

  • by: |
  • 11/03/2005

Say bye-bye to Canadian drug buys (PawtucketTimes.com)
Jim Baron, Times staff reporter

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s brief experiment with licensing Canadian
pharmacies to dispense cheaper prescription drugs here is apparently
over before it started. “It’s more or less a dead issue,” Don Williams, the state Department of Health’s associate director for health services regulation said on Tuesday.

The General Assembly passed a measure in 2004 allowing DOH to license
drug stores from Canada to sell pharmaceuticals in Rhode Island and Gov. Donald Carcieri allowed it to become law without his signature. But regulations promulgated by DOH to assure the quality and safety of the medicines made it too burdensome and expensive to be worthwhile to any pharmacies north of the border. “It was impossible to implement,” Williams said.

Initially, four pharmacies from various Canadian provinces applied for
licenses, Williams said. But when he returned the applications with
information about the new regulations, he said, none sent their
applications back. Williams said the law gave DOH a charge to ensure that drugs being re-imported to Rhode Island from Canada were as safe and effective as those bought in the United States. Since different Canadian provinces have different regulations, he said, “By the time we put on all the requirements we needed to put our blessing on it, it didn’t make sense for the Canadian pharmacies to try to get a license.”

“We were afraid that was going to happen; we hoped we would get proved
wrong,” said Jessica Buhler, project director for the Senior Agenda
Consortium, a group that fought the regulations when they were proposed. “That was the whole point of doing the regulations, that the pharmacies wouldn’t apply.” Buhler said the consortium and the Gray Panthers are considering what to do about the problem of the regulations making the cost of doing business here prohibitive for Canadian pharmacies. Richard Bidwell, president of the Gray Panthers of RI, said, “the Health Department went out of its way to create regulations that would kill the law. I don’t think they should have done that.”

Williams said DOH has “made a policy decision” not to try to stop
individual Rhode Islanders who by mail, phone, the Internet or other
means try to obtain prescription drugs from Canada. “If individuals want to assess the situation and think it makes sense to buy drugs from Canada and they are happy with the safety, we are not going to impede that,” Williams said. “But if someone tries to establish a retail outlet, that we would go after.”

Bidwell says he buys his prescriptions in Canada through a storefront
office called Canadian Direct Discounters on Post Road in Warwick. “They will give you prices and handle the paperwork,” he said, put purchasers pay the pharmacy directly with a credit card. There is a similar business called Canada Drug Service on North Washington St. in North Attleboro, he said. Bidwell said he has yet to determine whether it will be cheaper to continue buying prescriptions from Canada once the new Medicare Part D drug program is implemented. “I’m not sure what the dollars and cents are going to add up to,” he said Monday. “It may well end up costing more to be on Medicare Part D than buying medicine in Canada.”

Secretary of State Matt Brown set up a website, www.rimeds.com, that
offers prescription drugs from international pharmacies at a savings of 30 to 65 percent under the retail price. Prescription drugs are cheaper in Canada and certain other countries because the governments there have implemented price controls that have not been imposed in the United States. In many cases, drugs manufactured in America and sold to foreign countries that have price controls can be re-imported and still be cheaper than the prices charged in U.S. drug stores.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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