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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2003

Livonia club catches eye of feds, seniors

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LIVONIA, Mich. - When Ed Newstead heard about a business opening yesterday in this Detroit suburb offering cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, he figured it could not hurt to check it out.

Last year, he and his wife spent $4,695 out of their own pocket paying for prescription drugs - a hefty sum for the retired Livonia couple. Mr. Newstead, 87, fought with the Army infantry during World War II and has some drug coverage through the military, but his wife has none because Medicare does not cover prescription drugs.

Although he did not save as much as he hoped because the storefront shop, Livonia Drug Club, did not have access to many of the drugs they needed, he still saved almost $300 on one of his wife's medications because of cheaper, government-subsidized Canadian drugs.

“It was worth it,” Mr. Newstead said as he slowly shuffled out the door after having waited three hours to order drugs through the Drug Club.

While this can all be done now in the privacy of one's own home by e-mailing information to American Drug Club at www.americandrugclub.com, club employees said they offer one-on-one assistance. Many senior citizens do not own or are not comfortable using computers and don't want to have to endure long waits passing through Customs to travel to Canada.

Livonia Drug Club president Patrick Slater heard from lots of people like Mr. Newstead yesterday and probably will hear from many more - unless state and federal regulators shut him down first.

The Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services did not return repeated calls from The Blade about the Livonia Drug Club, which is a subsidiary of American Drug Co. of Winnipeg, Canada.

However, the state is investigating the legality of the Drug Club's operation, according to The Detroit News.

Mr. Slater said American Drug has similar sites in Florida and several other states, but the Livonia operation is the first in Michigan or Ohio.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has threatened in the past to shut down operations similar to the Livonia Drug Club, saying they're concerned about the quality and safety of imported drugs.

But, the rising cost of drugs in the United States has led many Americans - including hundreds from the Toledo area - to travel across the international border to get their prescriptions filled and has created a major political issue in the United States. The House voted last week to allow prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere to be re-imported into the United States. After the House vote and before going on recess, 53 senators signed a letter saying they don't support the legislation.

The United States allows individual Americans to go to Canada and buy up to a three-month supply of drugs.

Kathy Kranz of Toledo's Shortway bus company said about 40 seniors take their monthly bus trips to Windsor, Ont. For a $15 roundtrip bus ticket, local residents can travel to the Casino Windsor and get their prescriptions filled at a nearby pharmacy. Another bus trip leaves tomorrow from Toledo, she said.

Despite questions about the legality of Livonia Drug Club, Mr. Slater shrugged his shoulders when asked if he was worried about the government shutting him down.

“What we're doing here is just what anyone can do on the Internet,” he explained.

In fact, all he and the other Livonia Drug Club employee were doing yesterday was sitting in front of a computer, looking over prescriptions and other medical information from customers, collecting payment, and forwarding orders to parent American Drug. Physicians there were to examine the information, and if things checked out, sign off on the order and Canadian drugs then were to be mailed.

A former golf teacher, and until recently a stay-at-home father, Mr. Slater, 32, of Ann Arbor said he got the idea for starting the Livonia Drug Club after seeing the high prices his grandmother was paying for medication. He contacted American Drug Club and worked out a business arrangement to set up the Livonia storefront at the intersection of Middlebelt and Six Mile roads to act as a catalog-like ordering store.

It has all the appearances of a shoestring operation. Mr. Slater and another employee were in a small office building and had set up computers and a hodgepodge of folding metal chairs and other seats for those who wanted to wait.

And wait they did. At 3 p.m. yesterday, about 20 people, some of whom had been there for hours, were waiting to be seen by Mr. Slater and his colleague.

Two shop phones were ringing constantly. In between entering information into a computer and talking on the phone, Mr. Slater expressed amazement at the interest.

“I've never talked so much in my life,” he said.



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