Canadian drug imports give senators heartburn-and it’s getting worse

Sign the petition asking our senators to take the:

Congressional pledge to vote to legalize Canadian imports

Fair Price for Medications Pledge

Ivan J. Miller, Ph.D.

Updated 3/5/17

The Hill reported on February 14th that Bernie Sanders’ effort to get fellow Senators to allow the importation of medications from Canadian pharmacies was causing senators to develop heartburn[1]. This is great news for American consumers. The senators’ heartburn will help motivate them to pass legislation allowing Americans to import medications from Canadian pharmacies at a fraction of what they pay in the U.S.

Sanders’ introduced legislation that allowed Americans to import Canadian medications at Canadian prices. It got 46 votes, including 12 Republicans. The two Colorado senators—Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner — voted with the pharmaceutical industry to block these safe but lower-priced imports. Because the vote is so close, and the importation of Canadian drugs is supported by 72% of Americans[2], now there is a movement to change some senate votes. We want our Colorado Senators to step up and pledge to change their votes.

The heartburn situation is getting worse for senators. Sen. Sanders announced that Sen.

Booker and two other senators agreed to change their votes on a new version that he introduced on February 28th. Assuming that the other yes votes do not cave to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, the legislation is now within one vote of passing.

Sign the petition asking our senators to take the:

Congressional pledge to vote to legalize Canadian imports

Fair Price for Medications Pledge

(Full text of pledge)

With 1,400 Washington lobbyists and $3 billion of contributions to Congressional campaigns since 1998[3], the pharmaceutical industry has rigged the U.S. marketplace. Americans are forced to pay an exorbitant amount for medications while everywhere else in the world these medications are available for a fraction of the U.S. prices. As President Trump said, “Drug Companies are getting away with murder[4].” Bernie Sanders agreed[5]. Most Americans know it’s true.

The Sanders’ legislation is a simple and immediate solution that would make medications available at fair prices. Canadian pharmacies have safety standards equivalent to the U.S. If it were legal to import medications from Canadian pharmacies, American’s would pay Canadian prices. The difference between costs is dramatic:

Price comparison[6]

Medication U.S. Price Canadian Price
Epipen (allergic reaction life saver) $620 $290
Zetia (high cholesterol) $840 $183
Advair (for asthma) $980 $212
Januvia (for diabetis) $1,064 $255
Abilify (for depression) $2,626 $436

Although 72% of the people want to be allowed to import medications from Canadian pharmacies, the situation seems complicated for our representatives in Washington. Both political parties support or accept the pharmaceutical company control of the U.S. market and fear its power. The Senators who sign the pledge or vote for Canadian imports will get a lot of pushback from party officials, the people they go to dinner with, their donors, and the 1,400 pharmaceutical lobbyists. Moreover, they know that if their election opponents are friendly to the big pharma, there may be hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions used against them. The rules of Washington are: do what you need to do to stay in office, and be loyal to your own party. A vote against such a big establishment industry may break both rules.

Not only do our legislators have a lot of pressure from their peers and funders to avoid

Craig Ruttle, Associated Press

confronting the pharmaceutical industry, there is a well-funded research industry that uses statistics to convince legislators that the real cost of drugs comes from creating the new medications of the future. This research mumbo jumbo is distracting, but it is convincing only if the pharmaceutical company’s budget is not examined. The Washington Post reported the 10 biggest pharmaceutical company’s budgets for R & D, and the average amount being 6.6% of expenses[7]. With Americans paying many times the amount for medications than people in other countries, where does all of their money go? It certainly does not go to pharmaceutical companies’ R & D.

The other misleading industry argument is that there may possibly be an unspecified safety problem for which there is no current evidence. It is hard to believe that anyone can buy this argument. I have never heard anyone say he/she is afraid to walk into a Canadian pharmacy and buy medications for fear of safety. There are hardly any products we would buy from a brick and mortar store that we would not also buy through mail order from the same store. Moreover, many people in the U.S. currently import medications from Canadian pharmacies illegally. The U.S. imports food safely from all over the world.

In spite of the safety argument never having been credible, it has been used successfully in the past to kill legislation allowing imports from Canadian pharmacies. A pharmaceutical industry designed safety clause was attached to legislation in 2000 and 2007 to allow the importation of medications from Canadian pharmacies. This safety clause required that the federal government give Canadian medications a “safety certification[8].” Such a requirement sounds reasonable, but in Washington, there are many ways that the big and powerful can quietly kill legislation. The “safety certification” was the kind of certification that would never be granted. This unattainable certification has been proposed again, and the senators opposing Sanders’ legislation said they would vote for it if the “safety certification” were included. Either the senators were duped by the pharmaceutical industry or they are colluding with the industry to fool the American people. This clause should be called out for what it is: a con.

PhARMA still promotes the preposterous claim that the price difference between the U.S. and Canada must be protected by Congress to ensure patient safety. Washington frequently asks us to believe that two plus two equals five. But this absurd safety argument asks us to believe two plus two equals 10, six of which goes to big PhARMA. It is time for the people to insist on simple, clean legislation to be implemented immediately.

With all of the pressure on the Senators to not interfere with the pharmaceutical industry, it is no wonder that they are reluctant to stand up to the industry. Usually, these votes just come and go and are forgotten by the time of re-election campaigns. Now the situation is different. The request to sign the pledge will be active every day. The Senators, as good men, are starting to feel the anguish when their constituents tell them about their suffering. Their constituents want to be able to obtain medications from Canadian pharmacies, and they know that the research and safety industry arguments are phony. Facing the problem is giving them heartburn. Considering the financial and medical suffering of the American people, they should have a lot of heartburn.

The Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care will use the pledge to bring this life-and-death issue to the attention of our Colorado senators until they find the gumption to do the right thing —pledge to vote for Canadian imports next time it comes up. With only one vote needed to pass the Senate, the next battle will be the House, where Colorado has seven representatives. If Colorado senators and representatives can be persuaded to do the right thing, Colorado could make a difference for the whole country.

Sign the Petition

Click here to read the complete version of the Pledge


  1. Bolton, A. (2/14/17) The Hill, Schumer tries to keep peace as Sanders speaks out.
  2. Kaiser Health Tracking Poll. (2015)
  3. Sanders, Bernie. (2/6/17) Will Trump have the guts to stand up to drug companies? Washington Post, Washington:DC
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Swanson, Ana. (2/11/15) Big pharmaceutical companies are spending more on marketing than on research. Washington Post. Washington: DC
  7. Zaid, J. & Dayen, D. (1/12/17) Cory Booker joins Senate Republicans to kill measure to import cheaper medicine from Canada. The Intercept.
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