AARP Ads Push for Senate OK on Drug Purchases from Foreign Countries

The AARP is launching a $500,000 ad campaign Sunday in 14 states pushing for Senate action on legislation that would let consumers buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

The ads will appear in newspapers and on radio in cities such as Baltimore, Indianapolis, Anchorage, Alaska, and Des Moines, Iowa. David Certner, legislative policy director for the advocacy group, said the campaign focuses on the home states of senators who have shown some openness to letting people buy U.S.-made medicine shipped abroad.

"This is going on right now regardless of the law. People are going outside the country to buy their medicine," he said. "We want to make sure the system is as safe as we can make it."

The bill that AARP supports, written by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has bipartisan support from 31 co-sponsors. It would allow consumers buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and eventually from other countries such as Australia, Japan and nations within the European Union.

AARP officials said the political ads were not developed with November in mind, but they also know that cheaper medicine is a top priority with voters during the elections. The ads urge people to call their senators to co-sponsor the bill.

While millions of seniors are getting some relief through the new Medicare drug benefit, the organization still represents millions not yet eligible for the benefit who must deal with rising drug prices, Certner said.

The trade association representing drug manufacturers said the AARP is jeopardizing the health and safety of patients by urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow potentially unsafe drugs to be imported from other countries.

"The FDA has repeatedly stressed that it cannot guarantee that imported medications from Canada are safe," said Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. "And Canadian health officials have acknowledged the severity of the counterfeiting crisis within their borders."