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Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle to study importation of medicine from Canada

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously yesterday to study a program that would reimburse employees for importing prescription drugs from Canada.

Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who pushed the proposal along with Mayor Greg Nickels, said it could save the city between $250,000 and $1 million a year because many drugs are 30 to 80 percent cheaper in Canada. The city and its employees spent $9 million last year on prescription medications.

The plan would be voluntary and is based on one started last year in Springfield, Mass.

Importing medicine from Canada is illegal, but U.S. citizens have been doing it for years and Springfield has not been prosecuted for its plan.

Pharmaceutical-industry representatives oppose the city's plan, saying it could pose safety problems and expose the city to potential lawsuits. They also have said it could hinder Seattle's efforts to create a biotech hub in the South Lake Union area.

The Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association warned that Seattle's growing but still-fledgling biotech industry needs financial help to thrive.

"Drug importation is certain to significantly dampen biotechnology investment. City policy should not place the industry in jeopardy," association President Ruth M. Scott said in a letter to Rasmussen.

"I seriously doubt it," Rasmussen said of the suggestion that the plan would harm investment.

The council's vote encourages the city to evaluate a Canadian importation program for cost, legal, safety and tax issues. The council intends to support such a program if those issues are not considered serious roadblocks. A program could be in place by the end of 2004, Rasmussen said.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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