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Drug companies don't need help

The government should be looking out for consumers, but it's not

Elderly people around the country struggle to afford prescription drugs. That's not news.

But until recently, it appeared the government was doing what it could to help; that the government was, in fact, on the seniors' side.

Now we know better.

Increasing government pressure this fall on American businesses that help seniors buy cheap drugs from Canada tell us that this, instead, is reality: If the government has a master in this debate, it's the pharmaceutical industry, not consumers.

Consider the actions last week of Oregon's Board of Pharmacy, which warned owners of a Tigard business that they are on shaky legal footing.

— Canada Drug Service, a business that acts as a link between Americans and Canadian pharmacies, could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for practicing pharmacy without a license and illegally importing drugs, the board said.

It is a story repeated around the nation in recent months as Canada Drug Service, a franchise operation, and other similar companies have sprouted and attracted increasing numbers of customers.

Their appeal is no big secret: Many senior citizens lack prescription coverage, and U.S. drugs cost more than drugs almost anywhere in the world.

Seniors are doing what they can to get a good deal, something they might reasonably expect a capitalism-clad government to support.

But in fact it is illegal in the United States to shop elsewhere for a deal on prescription drugs.

Drugs from other countries might hurt Americans, the Food and Drug Administration says, because other countries' pharmacies might dispense the wrong drugs in the wrong amounts with wrong directions for use.

That's pretty hard to buy, frankly, with prescriptions filled in Canada, which usually sells drugs made in the United States and where pharmacists speak English.

More likely, the potential for damage here rests with drug companies, which could feel considerable financial pain if too many American consumers find ways to avoid paying U.S. prices.

The government, if it isn't obvious, should be worried about its citizens' pain, not the drug companies'. Consumers should get support, not a slap on the wrist, when they find ways to cope with their predicament.

And the government, meantime, ought to be searching high and low for ways to resolve the problem at the root of all this consternation: drug prices that almost no one can afford.

Bravo, OSF

Over the years the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has continued to bring attention and prestige to the city of Ashland. Now a festival production will travel to England in March for OSF's first-ever overseas tour.

Mothers Against and Daughters of the Revolution are the two parts of playwright David Edgar's Continental Divide, co-productions of OSF and the Berkeley Repertory Company.

The trip will add international exposure to a regional theater with a growing national reputation in recent years. In 1998, OSF presented The Magic Fire in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. And this year, Time magazine named the festival one of the five top regional theaters in the country.

Congratulations to the festival. Its success is, in many ways, Southern Oregon's success.