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Cities and local authorities in several states say they will continue to use a Canadian company to offer employee prescription drugs at a very reduced price, even though US Food and Drug Administration officials have raised practice safety issues.  The municipalities use CanaRx, which connects its employees with bricks and pharmacies in Canada, the UK and Australia to fill prescriptions.
In a letter sent last week to CanaRx, the FDA said the company sent "unauthorized" and "misbranded" drugs to US consumers, threatening patient safety.
The FDA also encouraged consumers not to use any drugs from CanaRx, which works with around 500 cities, counties, school areas and private employers in the United States to arrange drug purchases. Some of these employers started using the service as far back as in 2004.
The prices of medicines from foreign pharmacies can be as much as 70 percent lower than what people pay in the US because the costs are regulated by foreign authorities.
FDA officials did not explain why they were expecting more than a decade to act. They acknowledged that the agency did not have reports of any damage by drugs received through CanaRx.
The FDA notified as Congress and the Trump administration is looking at ways to reduce drug prices. In the last month, the Florida Republican government, Ron DeSantis, has said he has President Donald Trump's support to launch a program to start importing drugs from Canada to citizens.
After DeSantis & # 39; comments, white house officials emphasized that any such plan must receive state and federal approvals.
The FDA says that in most cases, importing drugs for personal use is illegal, although it has very rarely attempted to stop Americans from bringing drugs across the Canadian border . It has not stopped the stores in Florida that have helped consumers buy drugs from Canada since 2003. Nine storefronts were ridden by FDA officials in 2017, although the FDA allowed them to continue operating.
Schenectady County, New York, who has worked with CanaRx since 2004, defended his relationship and has no immediate plans to close it, according to lawyer Chris Gardner. "We'll wait to see how this plays out, but right now it's the status quo," Gardner says.
He says that CanaRx, headquartered in Windsor, Ontario, helped the county save $ 500,000 in drug costs in 2018. About 25 percent of the county's 1,200 employees use the program and receive their medicines without any cost. If they use US pharmacies, they usually have a copayment.
"This is a good program and on merit it looks legal and they do not do the terrible things the FDA proposes," Gardner says.  CanaRx officials deny that they have violated any laws or endanger the health of the Americans. They say they are not an online pharmacy, but a broker between US employees and brick pharmacies in Canada, Australia and the UK. People can buy medicines via CanaRx only on prescription from their doctor.
The company says it has no plans to stop distributing drugs.
"FDA's characterizations of the CanaRx business model and operating protocols are completely wrong," said Joseph Morris, a Chicago-based lawyer for the company. "It is not possible to place an order via a CanaRx website, the sites are only informative."
Morris says the FDA alert has prompted calls from many municipalities; But so far everyone says they plan to stick to the company.
The FDA warning states that online pharmacies that intend to sell drugs from Canada, UK and Australia can actually get their drugs from other countries, which will increase the risk consumers have to deal with counterfeit drugs.
CanaRx states that "it deals with government licensed doctors, pharmacists and pharmacies in Canada, UK and Australia … delivering brand names, packaged and sealed by the original manufacturer, for direct delivery to all participants."
Gabriel Levitt is the president of pharmacychecker.com, an independent website for US consumers confirming international pharmacies offering drugs online. He notes that the FDA's warning letter did not provide any evidence. CanaRx has distributed some counterfeit drugs since it began to work almost 20 years ago.
Columbia County, NY, has been using CanaRx for about a decade and says that savings make it possible to offer employees drug-free, non-pocket money, rather than requiring them to pay as much as a $ 40 copy at local pharmacies .
"This is the bull", Stephen Acciani, an insurance broker working with the county, says about the FDA breakdown. "They do not sell unsafe medicines." His recommendation will be for the county, which has more than 600 employees on the health plan, to continue using CanaRx.
Acciani notes that employees receive the medication via the mail in their original packaging from the manufacturer.
"It will give some clients a break," said Kate Sharry, a Fall River, Mass Advantage Consultant, and more than 100 other state governments. "How can you not be aware of this from the FDA?" But she expects "Local authorities should join CanaRx.
Federal health professionals under both Republican and Democratic governments have blocked efforts to legalize the import of drugs, saying it is too risky.
" Sometimes it is too expensive, " Peter Pitts, a former FDA-associated commissioner (from 2000 to 2004), now president of the Public Health Center, a New York-based nonprofit receiving some of his drug users' funding.
Pitts, who applauds FDA measures, saying it is difficult for consumers to know when their foreign pharmacy pills do not have the proper strength or ingredients, saying that doctors cannot recognize the patient's problem due to drug problems. The doctors only change the dosage of the medication. He says it is not safe for Americans to buy drugs imported through foreign pharmacies.
Levitt says CanaRx is one of the safest ways for Americans to get drugs from legitimate pharmacies in Canada and other industrialized counties.
The FDA is likely to scare CanaRx and its customers in the municipality, Levitt says.
"My biggest fear is that they will scare the consumers, [who then] will not take their very safe and effective medication because they hear about this false warning," Levitt says.
"The FDA's action," he says, "as Seems to try to make these programs look insecure and scary, seems to have a political and public relations purpose – one that is totally ally with the lobbying of drug companies. "
Levitt points to testimony FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb went to a subcommittee for a week last week – just one day before the CanaRx warning and admonished the announcement that he will leave the FDA next month.
When he left asked to import Canadian medicines, Gottlieb did not say CanaRx, but said that people who go to a "brick and mortar" pharmacy in Canada get a safe and effective drug. I trust the Canadian drug control system. "He added that his Concerns are with online pharmacies.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry trade and the lobby group, has cheered the FDA action, but denied it had any role in that, spokeswoman Nicole Longo said.
"PhRMA supports the FDA's efforts to cut down on organizations that circumvent the robust security and impact requirements," Longo says. Drug import schemes expose Americans to potentially unsafe, counterfeit or counterfeit medicines. "
Kaiser Health News is an ideal news service and an editorially independent program by the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.