Feds fight drug imports Maine now allows

Federal authorities continue to tussle with Canadian Internet pharmacies after counterfeit drugs slipped into the U.S. supply chain, but one state now sanctions cross-border prescription purchases for its citizens. Maine's new law allowing citizens to get mail-order drugs from Canada, the U.K., New Zealand and Australia went into effect Wednesday but is being opposed in court by pharmacies and some drugmakers over questions of authenticity.

The potential financial impact to drugmakers is small, but they worry about the precedent that would be set if the law goes unchallenged. "It's not a safety issue. It's turf," said Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage, according to The Wall Street Journal. He supported the change that allows the cross-border sales after the attorney general last year halted the practice because Canadian pharmacies were not licensed to do business in the state.

Some beg to differ. There are "serious safety concerns" because it is hard to track the drugs and make sure they are real and safe, a Pfizer ($PFE) spokesman told the WSJ. But proponents counter that U.S. citizens in border states have been buying drugs in Canada for decades without issue. They are cheaper there because the country imposes price caps.

Safety concerns are not without their basis. For more than a year, U.S. authorities have been chipping away at Internet pharmacy company Canada Drugs, which reportedly was the source of counterfeit Avastin shipped last year to doctors. Authorities have tried shutting down its Internet provider and put a chill on its business by prosecuting doctors that bought unapproved foreign cancer drugs through an affiliate. Earlier this year, one of its key salesmen pleaded guilty to a federal charge that he essentially covered up a felony after he sold the company's unapproved foreign-made drugs to physicians who bought them because they are cheaper.

Even as the FDA has cracked down, counterfeiters have become more sophisticated. The foreign-made drugs were easy to spot because they came in packaging that might be in the language of origin, Turkish for example. But in April, authorities warned that an unapproved, foreign version of the cosmetic treatment Botox has shown up in the U.S., this time in counterfeit packaging that made it appear to be the same product that is made for the U.S. market.

- read the Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)