AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate narrowly endorsed a bill Thursday that would lower prescription drug prices by requiring brand-name pharmaceutical producers to provide samples of their drugs to generic producers.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would align with federal law and, he hopes, stimulate the production of generic and less expensive alternatives once a brand-name drug’s patent expires.

“The high cost of medicine is a burden on Mainers all over our state, all while Big Pharma makes an obscene fortune on the backs of our families” Jackson said. “It is one of the greatest sins of our nation that lifesaving drugs are treated like nothing more than profit centers for big business. Mainers and Americans deserve affordable prescriptions so that they don’t have to choose between buying their medicine and paying their bills.”

The 19-16 initial vote in the Senate did not split along party lines. The bill now goes to the House for an initial vote, and requires additional votes in both chambers before it could be sent to the governor.

Although federal law requires name-brand pharmaceutical producers to make their drugs available to generic manufacturers, companies get around this requirement by citing an FDA provision called “REMS,” or Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies, which exists to ensure drug safety.

The bill, L.D. 1280, would amend the Maine Pharmacy Act to require that any drug distributed in Maine be made available for sale to an FDA-approved generic drug manufacturer who is seeking to develop a cheaper alternative.

Critics of the bill worried Thursday that it may be difficult or impossible to enforce, but Jackson said that wasn’t a good enough reason not to pass it.

Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, was among those who voted against the bill. He said the thought of lowering drug prices through competition is “seductive,” but he doesn’t think this bill would accomplish that.

“Its toothless,” he said. “The issue really deals with antitrust issues. You can’t compel private businesses to deal with their competitors.”

Dion also said he doesn’t like the idea of passing a law that could provide the basis for a legal challenge because it could mean committing state resources to a losing battle.

Jackson acknowledged the potential for challenges, but said the bill was necessary.

“We owe it to the people of Maine to fight, in whatever large or small ways we can, to relieve the burden of high prescription prices,” he said. “If challengers come, I say: Let them. But let it never be said that Maine’s elected officials didn’t do everything we could to make sure that drugs are affordable for our constituents.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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