updated 12/21/2004 2:02:17 PM ET 2004-12-21T19:02:17

The Bush administration said Tuesday that permitting Americans to buy prescription drugs abroad safely, if it can be done at all, would wipe away most consumer savings and diminish investment in new medicines.

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Americans would be better off increasing their use of generic medicines, which often are cheaper in the United States than elsewhere, said a report from an administration task force studying the feasibility of legalized drug imports.

“It would be extraordinarily difficult and costly for ’personal’ importation to be implemented in a way that ensures the safety and effectiveness of the imported drugs,” the report said.

Savings from commercial importation would be small because it would be expensive for the government to increase substantially the regulation of drug manufacturers and distributors, the report said.

The report, mandated by last year’s Medicare prescription drug law, examined whether medicines can safely be brought into this country from Canada and elsewhere, where brand-name drugs cost at least a third less.

Several bills in the Senate would have permitted imports from Canada, where brand-name medicines cost a third or more less. Legislation passed the House last year, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a surgeon, refused to allow a vote in the Senate.

An Associated Press poll this year found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said the government should make it easier to buy cheaper drugs from Canada or other countries.

A growing number of cities and states are helping employees and retirees buy drugs from Canada, over the objections of the Food and Drug Administration and pharmacists organizations.

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