The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has been dismissed from a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn a Maine law that allows consumers to purchase prescription drugs from other countries to save money.

PhRMA, a national trade group representing drug companies, is one of several plaintiffs that filed the lawsuit in September, along with the Maine Pharmacy Association, the Retail Association of Maine, the Maine Society of Health System Pharmacists and two pharmacists, Amelia Arnold and Charles Ouellette.

The defendants are Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and state Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett.

The lawsuit will continue, but without PhRMA.

The law being challenged was passed by Maine lawmakers in June 2013 and went into effect three months later. It amended the Maine Pharmacy Act to allow consumers to purchase prescription drugs online from companies licensed in five countries: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

PhRMA has argued that the law’s passage opened up an unregulated drug supply that puts consumers at risk. The trade group also claimed that its members, some of the major drug companies in the world, would be harmed by the cheaper competition.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen, in a May 15 ruling, concluded that PhRMA had no legal standing in the case because it had failed to show that it had suffered any direct harm from the law.

John Murphy, assistant general counsel for PhRMA, said he disagrees with the judge’s ruling and said PhRMA would “evaluate its options.”

“This is not considered a final decision, but the more important thing is that the case will still move forward,” he said. “And our interests are closely aligned with those of the other plaintiffs.” Murphy did not say whether PhRMA would appeal the decision.

Murphy said PhRMA’s biggest concern with the Maine law that passed last year, which is the first of its kind, is that it takes enforcement power away from the Food and Drug Administration and, “puts it in the hands of the Internet.”

The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the case.

Michael Carvin, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing the plaintiffs, did not return a call for comment.

The law grew out of a 2012 decision by former Attorney General William Schneider, who determined that CanaRx, an international firm that had been providing low-cost medication since 2003 to more than 1,000 Mainers, could not be licensed as a pharmacy in Maine. His decision prompted CanaRx to halt its MaineMeds program, which had been offered to employees of state government, the city of Portland and Hardwood Products of Guilford. Ending the program threatened nearly $3 million in savings under the Maine state employees’ health plan and another $200,000 in savings for the city of Portland.

As enacted, the new law would allow a licensed retail pharmacy in any of the five named countries to export prescription medication by mail through an unlicensed entity to residents in Maine for personal use. Those pharmacies do not need to have a Maine license as long as they meet their own country’s statutory and regulatory requirements.

But the lawsuit plaintiffs said the law does not provide enough safeguards.

“(The law) was enacted with the avowed purpose of opening the state’s borders to foreign pharmacies, after previous iterations of drug importation programs operating in the state ended,” the suit states. “Prescription drugs shipped to Maine by foreign pharmacies pursuant to the (law) are not subject to any of the quality and safety controls put in place by the federal government in order to protect persons who rely on prescription medications. The (law) therefore puts Maine residents at risk of serious harm.”

The Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to dismiss last October, about a month after the suit was filed. The state claimed that PhRMA’s motive was to “preserve their financial interests, as they are concerned that the 2013 amendment may reduce their sales if, at some point in the future, Maine residents choose to purchase their prescription drugs from pharmacies located in other countries.”

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

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Twitter: @PPHEricRussell