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Pawlenty tours Canadian pharmaceutical company in reimportation drive
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Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Bob Fraser, pharmacy director, touring the plant. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Gov. Pawlenty says he's ready to move full steam ahead with his plans to help Minnesotans buy less expensive prescription medicine from Canada. Pawlenty is back in Minnesota after spending Wednesday in Winnipeg. He met with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and officials representing Internet and mail order pharmacies. Pawlenty also visited a company that sends prescription drugs to the United States and believes the company meets his standards for safety.

Winnipeg, Manitoba — Pawlenty says he's coming away from his visit with the resolve to get his prescription drug proposal up and running by the end of the year. The governor wants to establish a Web site that would list Canadian Internet and mail order pharmacies that could sell drugs to Minnesotans that are less expensive because of Canadian price controls. He says he's confident the Canadian drug supply is safe and is as as good as the drugs sold in the United States.

"Canada, nationally, provincially and through industry groups, has a very modern and sophisticated and rigorous set of protocols in place to protect consumer safety. We're impressed with that. It appears that it meets or exceeds the similar requirements in the United States and that has given us assurance," he said.

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Image Heading to America

Pawlenty spent the morning at, a company that provides drugs to Americans over the Internet and through mail order. The company's focus is clearly on the American market. The company motto is "Providing hope to Americans through affordable health care."

The chief pharmacist for the company took the Pawlenty delegation and a throng of media through the company. He says Americans who choose to buy their drugs from need a prescription from an American doctor. A Canadian doctor then reviews the prescription and contacts the patient's doctor to guard against bad reactions to the medicine. CEO Kris Thorkelson says 75 percent of his customers are over the age of 60. Thorleson also says if Pawlenty and other governors endorse his company, it would be a great benefit, both in terms of reputation and business.

"If Minnesota approved of us it definitely would approve our credibility and trust is the biggest issue with our patients. Trying to gain that trust, proving to them that our quality standards are as good and our pharmacist standards and that they can trust Canada," according to Thorleson.

Both the Food and Drug Administration and the drug companies say Americans need to be careful about importing foreign drugs. They say they're concerned that Americans could be buying unsafe or counterfeit medicine. The FDA's William Hubbard says the FDA and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are working on several counterfeit investigations in Canada. "We know that counterfeiters are increasingly trying to get into the American market and we know that there are counterfeit drugs in Canada. We are concerned that any effort to bring in unregulated foreign drugs can provide an avenue for counterfeiters to access our citizens," said Hubbard.

Pawlenty says he's mindful of the FDA's concerns, but says he isn't seeing Canadians getting sick from their medicine. Several groups, however, are growing more concerned that Canada's health system will suffer drug shortages if Minnesota and other states start helping their citizens import drugs from Canada.

David MacKay, with the Canadian International Pharmacy Association say he's not seeing any shortages in Canada. He says the threat is contrived by the pharmaceutical companies who don't want to lose revenue if Americans buy their drugs from Canada.

"This is a fear-mongering tactic that the big pharmaceutical companies have propagated to incite alarm within the Canadian public and with HealthCanada in the attempts to try to limit or somehow shut down this industry," according to MacKay.

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Image A deal?

MacKay encouraged Pawlenty to lobby Canada's federal government on the issue of cross-border sales. He also recommended that Pawlenty reach an agreement with other states because the FDA would be less likely to go after a cluster of states. Pawlenty says he's spoken with his attorneys to see if the state can bring an anti-trust lawsuit against any drug companies that limit their drug supply to Canada.

After his visit to the drug company, Pawlenty met with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer in a closed-door meeting. At a news conference afterward, Doer said he and Pawlenty had agreed to promote commercial bioscience partnerships between Manitoba and Minnesota.

"We've got a real advantage of having a bioscience corridor across an international boundary. I think it gives us a unique way of ideas working here, sharing them with Minnesota researches and vice versa. It will be a real advantage to both of our economies."

Doer says he will visit Pawlenty in a few months to discuss trade and tourism. They also plan to talk about working on ways to cooperate on developing renewable energy technology like wind energy and biomass.

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