Ohio stores ordering drugs from Canada

CLEVELAND (AP) - Instead of traveling to Canada to buy cheaper prescription drugs, some Ohioans are turning to stores that order medicine to be shipped over the border.
At No Borders USA, which opened in April in the Parmatown Mall in suburban Parma, customers bring in their prescriptions and the store orders the medicines from a pharmacy in Calgary, Alberta.
Federal and state officials say such stores violate laws that prohibit importation of foreign drugs not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
No Borders sends about 1,000 prescriptions a month to the Canadian pharmacy and receives a small fee for each prescription, said Ken Ladley, vice president of the Westlake company.
Retired Strongsville couple Donald and Joan Martin said the store helped them save $360 for a three-month supply of three medicines they usually buy at a drugstore. Prescriptions should arrive within two weeks, and customers pay a $12.95 shipping fee.
"This is a good thing," said Donald Martin, who is in his 70s and has no insurance that covers prescription drugs.
William Hubbard, associate commissioner for policy and planning at the FDA, said stores that import drugs often lure customers with false claims about the medicines being safe and effective.
"We're trying to warn people these drugs are unsafe and you're going outside the safety net. Foreign authorities can't protect Americans," he said.
No federal or state officials have contacted No Borders, Ladley said. The company opened another branch last week in Summit Mall in Akron, and Ladley said he is negotiating for space in four other northeast Ohio locations.
Bill Winsley, executive director of the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, said he knows of more than a dozen similar stores in the state that serve as liaisons between customers and Canadian pharmacies.
"I have a problem with people making money by helping other people break the law," Winsley said. Only pharmacies licensed by the state are allowed to ship drugs into the state.
The board has taken no action against the stores.
"This is a hot issue politically," Winsley said. "Whether we find a prosecutor able to do something remains to be seen because of the political nature."
The FDA failed to stop the U.S. House of Representatives from passing legislation two weeks ago to make it easier to import drugs, which can be half or even a tenth the cost of an identical product sold in America. The bill, expected to face resistance in the Senate, would set up system to allow importation of FDA-approved drugs from FDA-approved facilities in Canada, the European Union and seven other nations.
"It's not about safety. It's about the FDA and Bush administration protecting the drug company profits," said Rep. Sherrod Brown, the Lorain Democrat who has been sponsoring bus trips to Canada for four years.
Organized bus trips to Canadian pharmacies for older Ohioans have become common.
In March, the FDA threatened to close an Rx Depot store in Arkansas that helped customers buy Canadian drugs. Hubbard said it is a test case that will be applied to similar businesses.
As the legal process moves ahead, Rx Depot eventually will be shut down, he said. State regulators in Montana filed suit against Rx Depot recently, seeking to close one of its stores.
Rx Depot President Carl Moore said the company operates 63 stores in 22 states and is opening about four stores a week.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)