Heated prescription drug debate is left to seven-member board

By Jan. 12, Nevada could be the first state in the country to license Canadian pharmacies to sell prescription drugs to residents via the Internet.

Or not.

The Nevada State Board of Pharmacy could agree with an opinion issued Tuesday by the Nevada attorney general, which says the state's Canadian prescription drug law prevents the very thing it was enacted to ensure - the legal importation of safe, cheaper Canadian prescription drugs to Nevada consumers.

The pharmacy board could then take the attorney general's advice and send the law back to the Legislature, and ask for a law that it can work with - a law that doesn't require Canadian prescription drugs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Health Canada, its version of the FDA, approves drugs for sale in Canada. The FDA is adamantly opposed to approving any Canadian drugs for sale in America.

Larry Pinson, pharmacy board executive secretary, said Wednesday the seven-member board will decide if it's appropriate to license Canadian Internet pharmacies at the Jan. 11-12 meeting in Las Vegas.

Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Clark County, who sponsored the original legislation, urges the board to approve the four Canadian pharmacies that have applied for licensure in Nevada despite the attorney general's opinion.

"I was astonished at the opinion," she said. "I find it hard to imagine how the attorney general came to the conclusion he did. The Legislature clearly intended to allow FDA-approved drugs, such as Lipitor and other commonly used prescription drugs, to be imported from safe pharmacies in Canada."

Attorney General George Chanos said 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.

"Frankly, to me, this bill was dead on arrival," Chanos said. "It contained language that killed it the day it was passed and all we're doing is announcing it. And now they're saying that we are somehow interpreting this inaccurately. We are not. We're looking at the plain meaning and the legislative history and both point to the fact that 'FDA approved' means 'FDA approved,' not what the proponents of the language are arguing now what it means."

He said Buckley is placing the law's failure on the attorney general's office, not where it belongs: with lawmakers.

Lawmakers across the spectrum have opposed Chanos' opinion, calling it a win for pharmaceutical companies and a loss for seniors and others seeking affordable prescription drugs. Chanos said his concern is just with the letter of the law.

Sen. Joe Heck, R-Clark, said he deleted Health Canada from the bill because there are certain drugs approved for use by it that are not approved for use by the FDA.

"Unfortunately what happened is that 'FDA approved' is being interpreted in the literal sense," he said. "We did not intend the entire FDA approval process from the labeling to the product. We mean that the pill be made the way the FDA approves."

He said if the pharmacy board votes it down then legislators will fix it in the 2007 session.

Eight states, several cities and the District of Columbia operate Web sites that recommend qualifying pharmacies to consumers. Nevada is the only state that has sought to license the pharmacies.

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.


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