Last year I led researchers at the London School of Economics in testing whether the practice of reimporting prescription drugs in Europe saved consumers billions in drug costs, as Peter Rost, vice president of marketing for Pfizer Inc., contended at a Montgomery County Council news conference about whether consumers should have the right to buy lower-cost prescriptions from Canada ["Surprise Support for Drug Importing," Metro, Sept. 14].

Our findings disagree strongly with his contention.

Reimporting prescription medicines has flourished in the European Union because national health policies in some member countries, such as Greece, Italy and Portugal, have led to declines in the local prices of patent-protected prescription medicines -- as much as 70 percent in some northern E.U. member states. Those countries include two of the five largest pharmaceutical markets in the world, Germany and Britain. This is similar to the pricing imbalance between the United States and Canada.

We looked at 19 top-selling drugs in six Northern European "destination countries" of imports -- Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Britain. The 19 drugs -- which treat heart, gastrointestinal and mental health ailments -- account for almost a quarter of all prescription drug sales in Europe.

Our study found combined sales of reimported versions of these drugs saved health care payers in Northern Europe a minuscule 0.3 percent to 3.6 percent of their annual drug budgets, or slightly more than $100 million. Moreover, these savings were not passed on to consumers, and drug prices in Northern and Southern Europe did not become more similar.

The biggest gains from selling imported drugs -- more than $650 million, or 46 percent of the sales of all products studied -- went straight to the repackagers.

Free trade across national borders may be correct in principle, and some individual patients in U.S. border cities and buying groups may realize some savings -- at some risk of buying counterfeit products -- by filling prescriptions in Canada and Mexico. But at the end of the day, American health policymakers would do well to look at what has happened in Europe.

PANOS KANAVOS

London