Council votes to offer imported medicine

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005

The County Council voted 6-2 Tuesday to offer county employees imported prescription drugs.

The final vote, the culmination of more than 18 months of debate, came as no surprise as five of the council members casting the ‘‘yes” votes had signed on as co-sponsors to the original legislation proposed by council President Thomas E. Perez (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park.

Councilmen Michael L. Subin (D-At large) of Gaithersburg and Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown cast the dissenting votes. Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton was not present at voting time.

The new prescription drug program will be administered by the county’s Department of Human Resources.

‘‘This is the end to 18 months of work,” Perez told The Gazette. ‘‘The largest issue has been safety concerns of the Canadian drugs, but data studies have been done and the concerns have been found to be unwarranted.”

The bill now goes to County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) for signature. It will go into effect 10 days after Duncan signs it.

Duncan, who had not taken a position on the bill, sent the council a memo supporting lower-cost prescription drugs, but not taking an explicit stand on the actual legislation. Last month, Duncan filed a formal request with the federal government to allow the county to import Canadian drugs.

The bill goes to the executive’s office with an amendment proposed by Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park and also approved 6-2, requiring each of the medications dispensed to be consistent with U.S. standards.

‘‘At the end of the day, we will put our employees at risk, and I just can’t vote for that,” Knapp told the council before casting his ‘‘no” vote.

The bill has been controversial, with opposition from the Food and Drug Administration. The federal agency said the bill violates the federal and puts people at risk. ‘‘The FDA is concerned that you cannot ensure that medicines imported by foreign countries abide by similar safety guidelines to those in this country,” said Thomas J. McGinnis, the agency’s director of pharmacy affairs.

During a public hearing before the vote Tuesday, McGinnis told the council that other agencies involved in this type of drug importation have been sent ‘‘cease-and-desist letters.” With the council’s vote, he said, Montgomery County, too, would receive a similar letter.

Asked about potential legal action against the county, Perez was unfazed.

‘‘If they want to referee this, then let’s referee it,” he said. ‘‘If they think the proposal is so illegal, why haven’t they sued anyone?”

Perez said once the legislation is signed, he will approach the county school board again about its opposition to the plan. On advice of its lawyers, the school board declined to implement the policy with its employees.

‘‘They wanted to take a ‘council leads and they follow’ approach,” Perez said. ‘‘Now we hope they decide to follow.”

More than 8,000 county employees and 4,500 retirees and their dependents will be affected by the legislation.