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Pawlenty draws fire from drug company

By Jim Suhr

Associated Press

CLAYTON, Mo. -- Drug-maker Pfizer Inc. refused to budge Thursday from its opposition to Americans seeking cheaper prescription medicines from Canada despite what Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty called a widening election-year "prairie fire" push to legalize such importation.

As about a dozen seniors protested Pfizer's stance outside Pfizer's annual shareholders meeting, the company's chief said the federally barred "importation of medicines across America's borders poses a clear threat to patient safety."

Considering that foreign drugs aren't controlled, "are small savings on a fraction of the nation's health-care bill worth the risks to safety?" said Henry McKinnell, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive.

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While importing cheaper drugs from Canada looks like an easy fix for patients, he said, the practice exposes all Americans "to a rising tide of counterfeit drugs," most indistinguishable from legitimate ones.

New York-based Pfizer's meeting came a day after a bipartisan group of senators introduced the latest legislative effort to allow Americans to fill their prescriptions in Canada; it would eventually allow drugs to be imported from 20 industrialized countries, mainly in Europe.

The White House, Republican congressional leaders and the pharmaceutical industry remain opposed, sharing Pfizer's safety concerns and worries that such measures would lead to a spike in counterfeit drugs in this country.

Though federal law bars the importation of Canadian medications, the Food and Drug Administration has signaled it will not go after individuals who do so.

Several cities and states facing budget crises already have turned to Canada to buy prescription drugs for workers or made it easier for residents to hook up with Canadian Internet pharmacies. Minnesota is among them, and Pawlenty on Thursday directly challenged Pfizer to help find ways to balance world prices.

"As you know there is a prairie fire that's been set across America on these issues," Pawlenty told McKinnell during the meeting, held this year in suburban St. Louis.

Afterward, Pawlenty said "the symptoms of the prairie fire" are obvious, from movement in Congress to various county and state leaders willing to try importing medicines from Canada.

"In the end, the drug industry isn't going to win," said Pawlenty, who has testified on Capitol Hill about prescription drug prices and gathered colleagues for a drug summit at a recent National Governors Association meeting.

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