U.S. Senate vote deferred on drug importation measure

WASHINGTON Mon Jun 8, 2009 7:55pm EDT

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduces a bill aimed at reforming federal contracting to stop wasteful spending during a news conference in the Capitol in Washington February 15, 2007. With Dorgan is Sentor John Kerry (D-MA). REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduces a bill aimed at reforming federal contracting to stop wasteful spending during a news conference in the Capitol in Washington February 15, 2007. With Dorgan is Sentor John Kerry (D-MA).

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. senator on Monday said he dropped plans to try to add a measure allowing importation of lower-priced medicines from other countries to tobacco legislation after being told the Senate will consider the drug issue separately.

Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan said that Majority Leader Harry Reid had promised to bring the drug importation measure to a Senate vote "very soon." Dorgan said he expected the vote to happen within "a matter of a couple weeks."

Last week, Dorgan said he planned to offer the importation measure as an amendment to a pending bill that would grant the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate cigarettes.

Dorgan's bill would allow U.S.-licensed pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import FDA-approved medicines from Canada, Europe and some other areas and provide cost savings to consumers. Patients also could purchase prescription drugs for personal use from FDA-inspected Canadian pharmacies.

Dorgan said the importation measure had enough support from Democrats and Republicans to pass the Senate.

President Barack Obama already has asked Congress to give the FDA $5 million to develop policies to allow Americans to buy medicines approved in other countries.

Drugmakers strongly oppose importation, saying it puts Americans at risk of being exposed to counterfeit drugs.

The tobacco bill cleared a key procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday with a 61-30 vote to limit debate. That moves the legislation closer to a vote on final passage later this week.

Democrats have said they have enough votes to pass the tobacco measure, which would let the FDA oversee the packaging, marketing and manufacturing of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Differences will need to be resolved with the House of Representatives before the measure can go to the president for his signature.

Altria Group Inc's Philip Morris unit, the nation's largest cigarette maker, supports the bill while some smaller rivals oppose it.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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