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Surgeon general wary of drug imports

WASHINGTON -- Counterfeiting operations could complicate the development of a safe and cost-effective program for importing lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said yesterday.

Carmona said drug makers made compelling arguments during a forum Monday that legalizing importation would make it easier for drug counterfeiters to market unsafe products.

''We were not aware of the extremely robust counterfeiting system," said Carmona, chairman of a government task force investigating whether drugs can be imported safely and efficiently. ''Certainly this would pose significant challenges to any importation plan."

Carmona said consumers who are crying out for cheaper drugs must understand that ''this is not simply `pick a pharmacy across the border and just walk across and get your medication.' It's an extraordinarily complex problem."

But city officials in Springfield, Mass., who have allowed city workers to order drugs from Canada since last July, repeatedly have proclaimed their program a success. ''No one has gotten any improper medications; no one's had any problems," said the program's administrator, Chris Collins.

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