MADAWASKA, Maine — Members of Maine’s congressional delegation are drawing attention to a bill that they say could jeopardize jobs at paper mills in Bucksport and Madawaska while also posing potential health and safety risks for Maine consumers and caregivers.
The Safeguarding America’s Pharmaceuticals Act, HR 1919, which is aimed at securing the drug supply chain and safeguarding against counterfeiters, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, June 3.
The legislation, however, includes a provision that would allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to make labeling information for pharmacists and other health professionals available by electronic means in lieu of paper. Information on dosage, side effects, warnings and other critical information would be available only online and would not be provided on paper with the drugs themselves.
Twin Rivers Paper Co.’s mill in Madawaska and Verso Paper Corp.’s mill in Bucksport, which employ 600 and 500 people respectively, both produce uncoated printing paper used as pharmaceutical inserts in North America.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud delivered a speech on the House floor against the bill, saying that he believed the measure was flawed on “multiple levels.”
“First, Internet access in rural states like Maine can often be intermittent at best. In an area of low Internet connectivity or reliability, health care providers would not automatically have the necessary information about the drugs to make sure they are being administered and prescribed appropriately,” he said. “This is true even in areas that have good Internet connectivity but have been hit by a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy.”
He also said that eliminating the paper labeling requirement would have repercussions for the more than 10,000 jobs nationwide associated with printing the information.
The Government Accountability Office is set to release a study next month on the advantages and risks of electronic-only labeling of pharmaceuticals. Michaud said that passing legislation that pre-empts the findings of this study is bad policy.
The comparable legislation in the Senate is still pending and does not include the language.
Ed Gilman, spokesperson for Michaud, said Thursday that the congressman has drawn attention to issues of concern and is hopeful that they can eventually be addressed in conference after the full Senate passes its version of the bill.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King released a joint statement about the matter, saying that they had “serious concerns” about it.
“If information on prescription drugs is only available via the Internet, it could present a serious accessibility challenge to Mainers in rural areas where Internet connectivity can be low or unreliable and then that information could be unavailable in the wake of a power outage caused by a natural disaster or other catastrophic incident,” they said. “This provision also poses a significant threat to the economic vitality of our papermaking industry which provides good, quality jobs across the state. We will work to ensure that no comparable language is included in the Senate version of the bill and that any final legislation reconciled in conference also does not contain a similar provision.”