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Cherokees consider selling prescription drugs by mail

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CHEROKEE, N.C. (AP) - Leaders with the Eastern Band of Cherokees are looking into selling discount prescription drugs by mail and possibly importing cheaper pharmaceuticals from Canada.

Selling prescription drugs has been a moneymaker for other tribes, including a Connecticut tribe, but importing them from Canada could open an age-old rift between a tribe's claim of sovereignty and federal laws that prohibit the imports.

''We've definitely looked at the Canada option,'' said Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. ''That definitely could go under sovereignty.''

The proposal could allow the tribe to fill prescriptions for tribal members and for people who live outside the boundaries of Cherokee land in the mountains of western North Carolina. The latter would require a permit from the state.

While discussions are preliminary, Cherokee health officials have already toured mail-order pharmacies run by other tribes ''to see if it makes sense for us,'' Hicks said.

''It's not just for external sales,'' he said. ''We want to see whether volume purchases would lead to better prices for our tribal members.''

They've toured the pharmacy operation of the Mashantucket Pequots of Connecticut, which generates more than $15 million in revenue a year selling only U.S.-manufactured drugs. The tribe has been able to purchase the drugs at deeply discounted prices because of the large volume of business done by its mail-order operation.