updated 3/4/2004 11:04:30 AM ET 2004-03-04T16:04:30

The nation’s largest advocacy group for retired people plans to appeal directly to the pharmaceutical industry to keep cheaper Canadian drugs available to Americans.

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William Novelli, chief executive of AARP, said Wednesday that his group will write to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in the next few days advocating its position.

“The pharmaceutical industry is not easy to convince. We all know that,” Novelli said, speaking at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “I don’t know if they’ll ever come around on importation. The least we can do is get them to not choke off the supply side, and we’re working on that.”

Thousands of Americans get their prescriptions filled in Canada, where brand-name medicines can cost half the price because of tighter government controls.

Limited shipments
Importing drugs is illegal in the United States, but people seeking cheaper prices can find ways to do so on the Internet. The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. pharmaceuticals industry oppose the practice, saying they cannot guarantee the safety of imported drugs.

Supporters argue that the industry is just seeking to keep prices high.

At least five drug companies, citing supply and safety concerns, have limited shipments to Canadian pharmacies to keep drugs from being sold to Americans.

Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with Springfield, Mass., and Montgomery, Ala., have given their residents permission to buy drugs from Canadian Internet pharmacies.

The AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, claims 35 million members aged 50 and older.

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