Federal judge cuts off Maine's Internet drug supply chain

The ability of Maine consumers to get cheaper drugs from across the Canadian border has been on-again and off-again. Now it is off again.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen ruled that Maine's 2013 law was in conflict with the overriding federal law that does not allow consumers to fill their own personal supply chains with international imports, the Portland Press Herald reported. It had been opposed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and a couple of state pharmacy and retail associations.

John Murphy, PhRMA's assistant general counsel, called the decision "a significant victory for patients" by confirming the FDA's role of protecting the U.S. drug supply chain. Troy Jackson, the former state senator who introduced the legislation, called it a shame. "The pharmaceutical industry wins these things 10 out of 10 times, so I'm not surprised," the Herald quoted Jackson as saying.

The law, the first in the country, actually let Mainers get prescriptions from Internet pharmacies in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand as well as Canada, because of the oversight those countries have in place over the operations. It was enacted after the attorney general there put a halt to the popular nearly decade-old CanaRx program through which about 1,000 state and municipal employees got their prescriptions filled through a Canadian Internet pharmacy. The state can appeal Torresen's ruling.

The potential financial impact to drugmakers from the law was minuscule, but the industry worried about the precedent that would be set if it went unchallenged. The drug industry argued that allowing citizens to buy drugs from other countries online raises serious safety concerns. In fact, the same Canadian Internet operation that administered the CanaRX program, CanadaDrugs.com, was believed to be the source, perhaps unintentionally, of some counterfeit Avastin that was found in the U.S. The agency has worked to stop sales from overseas over those very concerns.

But Maine Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, saw drugmakers' concern as being more over sales than safety. When the law was challenged, he said, "It's not a safety issue. It's turf."

- read the Press Herald story
- here's PhRMA's statement