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Drug firms sued over prices

Suit says Canadian medicines kept out

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drug maker, and 14 other pharmaceutical companies were accused by a group of California drugstores in a lawsuit of conspiring to keep lower-priced medicines from Canada out of the US market.

The lawsuit filed here by 14 independent pharmacies says the manufacturers use anticompetitive tactics to inflate drug prices. The pharmacies claim they pay four times more for prescription drugs than retailers in other countries.

Some drug makers limit sales to Canadian pharmacies as more than 1 million Americans use the Internet to order drugs from Canada, where medicines are as much as 77 percent cheaper. Pfizer, Eli Lilly & Co., and AstraZeneca PLC are reducing sales to Canada, in some cases cutting off retailers, to limit supplies available to send to US customers.

Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca are also named as defendants in the suit, which claims violations of California's antitrust and unfair competition laws and seeks to recover overcharges and unspecified damages.

The independent pharmacies are joining state and local governments, seniors who lack drug coverage, and lawmakers who are protesting high prices prescription drug makers charge in the United States. Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Vermont have been denied FDA permission to set up model programs to demonstrate how drugs might be imported safely from Canada. Vermont last week became the first state to file suit against the FDA over the restrictions.

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