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Canadian drug program one step closer

The Nevada State Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously Thursday to approve the system that will help Nevadans purchase cheaper Canadian prescription drugs.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said that leaves only the legislative committee, which reviews and signs off on regulations before the system can begin operation.

“Soon Nevadans should have access to safe and affordable prescription drugs from Canada,” she said.

The program creates a system for identifying Canadian pharmacies which are safe and licensing them to do mail order business in Nevada. It creates a Web site leading Nevadans to those pharmacies. And it includes strict rules to ensure Nevadans get the medicines prescribed by their doctors.

The legislative committee will review those regulations May 4, after which, Buckley said, the Web site can be put online.

“Too many Nevadans are desperate to pay for prescription drugs and turning to unregulated Web sites,” she said. “Now Nevadans will have a safe alternative.

The plan was approved despite an opinion by Attorney General George Chanos that the law setting up the system was flawed because it limits imports to Food and Drug Administration approved medicines. The medicines from Canadian pharmacies, he said, are approved only by Canada Health, not the FDA.

Buckley convinced the board the law was intended to allow importation of drugs that have been approved by the FDA in America, not to specifically require an FDA stamp of approval on the bottle.

At a meeting in Las Vegas, the Nevada State Medical Association, AARP Nevada, and teachers and public employees unions backed the proposal, saying it will help consumers, particularly seniors, get lower-cost drugs from Canada without ordering from unregulated Web sites.

“Everybody’s using the Internet these days,” said Denise Kelley, 80, an activist with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “At least this way they know it will be properly vetted.”

FDA spokeswoman Janet McDonald told the board the regulations would leave consumers who import drugs open to criminal and civil penalties, although she said limited resources have kept federal law enforcement officials from aggressively pursuing some illegal prescription import cases.

Chanos declined comment Thursday, but said through a spokeswoman that his office would not represent the board if lawsuits develop from Thursday’s decision.

The Pharmacy Board recommended allowing the sale of prescriptions in pill or capsule form, made up of compounds that have been approved both by the FDA and its Canadian equivalent, Health Canada.

The Canadian pharmacies must maintain a free phone line and provide e-mail access, and contact a customer’s doctor if the customer doesn’t provide a prescription written by a doctor.

Louis Ling, a Pharmacy Board lawyer, said four Canadian pharmacies had been inspected and would be approved. He said the regulations ensured Nevada consumers would receive the same prescription drugs offered to the Canadian market.

The board also approved regulations outlining when pharmacists can refuse to fill a customer prescription.

Faced with opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and other groups, the board removed controversial language that would have let pharmacists deny a prescription based on their “conscience.”

Opponents of the conscience clause argued it could threaten the ability of women to get birth control or the morning after pill.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.