The state Legislature must change the prescription drug law it passed in the last session if it wants to ensure that Nevadans have access to quality Canadian prescription drugs at the cheaper prices, the state attorney general said in his long-awaited opinion released Tuesday.
Attorney General George Chanos said lawmakers' attempt to provide Nevadans access to state-approved Canadian prescription drugs was made nearly impossible by enacting a quality and safety provision - that the drugs be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
"The Nevada Legislature made some deliberate and difficult policy choices which expressly limit the types of drugs which can be made available to Nevada's citizens," Chanos said in his opinion. "Unfortunately, those choices now service as insurmountable legal obstacles to the importation of virtually any drugs from Canada."
The Nevada State Board of Pharmacy requested an opinion from the Attorney General's Office on the state law's specification that the drugs must be FDA approved, something that isn't a qualification in a country with its own drug requirements and regulating agency.
The state board was set to approve up to five Canadian pharmacies to sell prescription drugs in Nevada through a state-run Web site. During the approval process, state inspectors found that the pharmacies only had drugs approved by Health Canada, its version of the FDA, the general counsel for the pharmacy board had said.
According to the opinion, the Legislature chose not to include language in the law that would have accepted prescription drugs approved by the Canadian government. An earlier version of the legislation included this provision. The Canadian prescription drug law went into effect July 1.
"The quality standard adopted by the Nevada Legislature is, as a practical matter, unworkable," Chanos wrote in the opinion. "Consequently, if the Nevada Legislature remains intent on allowing the importation of prescription drugs from Canada, a different quality-assurance standard, that is both verifiable and workable, would need to apply."
He said that pharmacy board cannot determine if Canadian prescription drugs are FDA approved because of the limited information it is given.
Nevada took a different route than other states. Eight states, several cities and the District of Columbia operate programs that recommend qualifying pharmacies, not license them. These other states started their programs by governors' initiatives.
Louis Ling, general counsel for the state pharmacy board, was out of the office Tuesday. Larry Pinson, pharmacy board executive secretary, did not return a call seeking comment on the opinion.
Bill Riordan, 79, of Carson City said he is still going to buy his prescription drugs from a pharmacy in Winnipeg. He doesn't mind that it's not state approved.
"Quite honestly, I really wouldn't care what the state was going to do," he said Tuesday. "It's what I'm going to do, and I'm recommending it to my friends. I showed them the information I have. It's a little extra homework, but I'm going to go to a reputable pharmacy."
Riordan, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said the prices are cheaper and the requirements are strict. His prescription slip must be co-signed by a Canadian pharmacist. Although this may seem like a hassle, Riordan isn't deterred. He said the new U.S. prescription drug program for seniors is more confusing than ordering prescription drugs from Canada.
Pharmacist Kirk Wentworth, who owns MedCare Pharmacy on North Carson Street, said the importation of Canadian prescription drugs is not necessary.
"It's kind of too bad," he said. "It was a good effort, but I think it's been rendered unnecessary by Medicare Part D, which is the prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries. I think they will be able to use FDA-approved drugs and get them through a local pharmacy."
Wentworth said the prescription drug plan is hard to understand, "but it still provides a benefit."
The attorney general said it's a disgrace that Americans should even need to consider going to Canada for prescription drugs.
"This country can and should do better," Chanos said. "If the Legislature elects to revisit this issue, we would welcome the opportunity to work with the Legislature to ensure the passage of workable legislation which would facilitate the importation of safe and affordable prescription drugs from Canada."
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.