Senators Vitter and Bill Nelson lead way as Senate
acts quickly to stop U.S. seizures of Canadian drugs
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11, 2006
– In a major move aimed at allowing people access to cheaper prescription
drugs, the Senate today voted overwhelmingly to stop federal agents
from seizing personal prescriptions mailed to the U.S. from Canada.
The vote, 68-32,
sends a strong signal that lawmakers on both sides of the political
aisle want the Bush Administration to stop seizing prescription
drugs largely ordered by seniors on fixed incomes from Canadian
pharmacies. The administration stepped up seizures of prescriptions
at the U.S. border in a secret crackdown launched last year.
Word of the
crackdown became public when U.S. Senator Bill Nelson challenged the
administration and asked for an investigation into complaints his
office received from constituents who, in some cases, had their
life-sustaining medications taken away without warning.
is going to ensure that Americans, especially the frail, elderly, or
those with debilitating conditions, are going to be able to at least
have a chance of affording the medications that they need,” Nelson
told the Senate prior to its vote today.
It was Nelson who,
along with Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter on Monday,
filed the legislation approved by the full Senate Tuesday
This comes after the
Department of Homeland Security inspector general declined Nelson’s
February request for an investigation into the increased drug
Concerned that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s
failure to also notify consumers of their stepped-up drug seizures
was placing people’s health at risk, Nelson wanted it stopped; and,
he wanted to know whether the increase in seizures represented a
policy shift; and, if it was related to the start of the Medicare
prescription drug program; or, whether there is something else
federal law bans drug imports from other countries, the government
generally viewed the law as a prohibition against wholesalers and
distributors and not against individuals getting small quantities to
fill legal prescriptions.
Nelson’s office last year began hearing from an increasing number of
constituents who had not received their personal medications – at a
time coincident with the start of the new Medicare prescription drug
program last November.
The new Medicare program was the Bush
administration’s alternative to cheaper Canadian drugs, and was
supposed to make prescriptions more affordable for seniors. For
many, however, prescriptions from Canada remain more affordable.
worried that the increase in confiscations represented a move aimed
at pressuring seniors to enroll in Medicare’s drug plan, and asked
the Homeland Security inspector general to investigate.
rebuffed, Nelson asked the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs for an investigation – a request that’s
Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that it had
modified their imported drug policy beginning on November 17, 2005 –
just two days after the start of the Medicare prescription drug
To date, the policy change has resulted in the seizure of
tens of thousands of prescription drugs. Essentially, no personal
prescription drugs had been seized over the same period a year
Meantime, information that has surfaced in a Minnesota court case
suggests that the increase in drug seizures could be part of a
larger scheme. According to documents filed in that court case,
there has been illegal and collusive activity to block the imports
of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.
chances of Nelson and Vitter’s Canadian drugs proposal reaching the
president for his signature are good.
The Senate is expected to
approve the full Homeland Security appropriations bill later this
week. The House included a provision similar to the Vitter-Nelson
amendment when they passed their version of the Homeland Security
appropriations bill in May.