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November 3, 1999

Bill Would Bar Dumping of Inappropriate Drugs in World Crisis

By REED ABELSON

Legislation was introduced in Congress on Tuesday to discourage American drug companies from sending donations of unwanted or inappropriate drugs during world crisis situations.

During the Kosovo crisis, drug companies and relief agencies worked together to provide badly needed medicine to the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Albania and Macedonia. But huge quantities of outdated, unlabeled or inappropriate drugs were also sent, including items like Chapstick, Preparation H and anti-smoking inhalers, relief workers reported at the time.

"U.S. tax laws provide an incentive for foreign dumping that must end," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, who introduced the bill.

American companies receive generous tax deductions for donating medicines for needy people, including those hit by emergencies like an earthquake or a war.

Under Doggett's bill, only drugs donated under guidelines developed by the World Health Organization, which has been a vocal critic of drug dumping, would be eligible for this deduction.

The problem of unwanted drugs has been a longstanding issue, and the health organization has estimated that hundreds of tons of unusable drugs have been sent in response to emergencies. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that a significant percentage of donations in recent years in the three countries studied -- Armenia, Haiti and Tanzania -- were also not high-priority drugs.

"To those in need around the world, the dumping of useless drugs is actually worse than no help at all, since such toxic junk must be destroyed by the very people requesting help," said Doggett, whose staff said he was prompted to introduce the bill by an article in The New York Times in June about the problem during the Kosovo crisis.

As much as half of shipments of donated drugs to the region were inappropriate and likely to take up space in warehouses or have to be destroyed at considerable expense, according to WHO.

Doggett and Rep. William Coyne, D-Pa., have also asked the General Accounting Office to investigate these donations of drugs overseas. They want the office to determine whether companies are now following the guidelines, and how much is being taken annually by the drug companies in tax deductions for unwanted and inappropriate drugs.

Under the bill, which is being supported by 54 House members, all Democrats, only donations that are sent with adequate labeling and with a shelf life of at least one year, unless otherwise requested, and that are donated with the approval of foreign health workers will be eligible for tax deductions. The IRS would be able to deny deductions for donations that do not meet these criteria.

The legislation is supported by the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations, an umbrella group of six relief agencies, including the Catholic Medical Mission Board and AmeriCares, and 11 drug companies, including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly. In October, the partnership said it would endorse the WHO guidelines.

The health organization is collecting reports of drug dumping and says it will make public the identity of any repeat offenders.

"It is really disappointing how high a percentage of donations do not follow the guidelines," said Jonathan Quick, the director of WHO's essential drug program. "The more groups that come on board, the better the situation will be."



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