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Nineteen California pharmacies filed a state lawsuit Thursday accusing the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies of conspiring to inflate U.S. drug prices. The pharmacies accuse the 15 drug makers of illegally conspiring to charge inflated prices in the United States while barring pharmacies from buying the makers’ drugs at lower prices outside the country. “We are being charged higher prices than foreigners are being charged,” said Joseph Alioto, representing the pharmacies. “If we are selling the same drug we want to pay the same prices as everyone else.” The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County court in Oakland, Calif., alleges the pharmaceutical companies have hurt the pharmacies’ bottom lines by violating California’s antitrust and unfair business practices laws. New York-based Pfizer Inc., which is named in the lawsuit, hadn’t reviewed it in detail Thursday, spokesman Bryant Haskins said. But he added that “any allegations of price fixing are totally without merit.” As to the allegations of blocking efforts to import drugs, Haskins said, “Importation of pharmaceutical products into the U.S. market is both illegal and dangerous because it increases the opportunity to introduce counterfeit or unapproved drugs into the distribution system.” The lawsuit comes at a time when pharmaceutical companies are under increased scrutiny over drug costs and their marketing practices. Many of the same drugs sold in the United States are available in Canada and elsewhere for fractions of the U.S. retail prices. The Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly denied requests to import drugs from Canada, where the government controls prices. The state of Vermont has filed a lawsuit against the federal agency over the issue. Other companies named in the lawsuit include Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Abbott Laboratories. Several of the companies declined to comment or didn’t return telephone calls Thursday. The drug industry in the past has defended its U.S. prices as a way to recoup hefty research and development costs. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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