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Canadian drug program approved

Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal Jackie Maye, center, protests in front of the Nevada State Legislature Building on Thursday, with Frank C. Page, left, and Nina Davis. The Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans rallied in both Carson City and Las Vegas on Thursday to urge the state Board of Pharmacy to ignore the attorney general's opinion and proceed with a plan to help Nevadans obtain cheaper drugs from Canada.
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On a motion by Executive Director Keith MacDonald, the board directed staff and board counsel Louis Ling to draft regulations designed to get around legal objections raised by Attorney General George Chanos.

Chanos threw a monkey wrench into the works last week with an opinion stating the law allows only “FDA approved” prescription drugs to be imported. He said that bars the state from licensing Canadian pharmacies to sell to Nevadans because they sell pharmaceuticals which are “Health Canada” approved.

“Virtually no drugs imported from Canada are FDA approved,” said Chanos.

Chanos said he supports making safe but cheaper drugs available to Nevadans, but, he argued, the law is flawed and needs fixing. He said he has asked Gov. Kenny Guinn for a special legislative session to fix the language so Nevadans can safely access cheaper Canadian drugs.

But Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, and a dozen other witnesses testified that Chanos’ opinion is a strained and convoluted interpretation of the law. She said the Legislature intended the law to refer to drug compounds which are FDA approved, not to limit imports to bottles of medicine which specifically bear an FDA seal and code.

She was joined in testimony by nearly a dozen other lawmakers as well as representatives from a variety of senior, state employee and other groups. Those groups held rallies outside the Legislature and the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas to urge pharmacy board members to ignore Chanos’ opinion. The Nevada and Clark County medical associations also backed going forward with the drug program.

“My intent was and is to approve the drug compound approved by the FDA,” said Sen. Joe Heck, R-Las Vegas, a physician who worked out the final version of the measure with Buckley.

Buckley and Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, both lawyers, said Chanos’ opinion reached “an absurd result.”

“You’re being asked to believe we intended to pass a bill that couldn’t be implemented,” Care said.

Ling said the board could agree with Chanos, or totally reject his opinion and move forward, or ask a district court to resolve the issue. He said a special legislative session to clarify the law would be a faster and a less expensive way to fix things than going to court.

“I think it’s a good compromise that allows the intent of the Legislature to be fulfilled and provides the pharmacy board with a level of protection in that the final regulations will be approved by the Legislative Commission,” Leslie said.

Buckley described the vote as a victory for Nevadans.

Chief of Staff Michael Hillerby confirmed that Chanos had asked Guinn to call a special session, but said he doesn’t believe that step is necessary.

“It’s premature because they’re going to try to make the case through the regulatory process,” he said. “If the Legislature wants a special session, they can come and make the case to the governor.”

Chanos said he had no intention of renewing his request for a special session: “I already asked him once.”

Leslie said a special session shouldn’t be necessary because the board will be able to put the Legislature’s intent into regulations and the legislative commission can sign off on them.

Once regulations are drafted, the board will be able to license four Canadian pharmacies which have agreed not to ship unauthorized generic drugs or drugs not on the FDA’s approved lists of medicines. Nevada customers will be able to access those companies on a state Web site.

Staff advised the board the program should be running by June and, if there are problems, it would be only six months until the 2007 Legislature convenes.

Chanos said his office will not participate in drafting those regulations because the action doesn’t agree with his interpretation of the law. But, he said, his staff will help draft legislation for the 2007 session to fix the law and would help draft disclaimers to help protect the state from any potential suit. He said his concern isn’t that drug companies will sue but that some patient will sue after getting drugs that make him or her ill.

He added that he hopes lawmakers will clean up the legislation in 2007 to make sure the state is protected from possible legal exposure.

Buckley, Heck and other supporters argue inspecting and licensing Canadian suppliers is safer than allowing Nevadans to buy drugs from potentially unsafe Internet sites in Third World countries.

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