US drugstore giants CVS and Walgreens have asked the Bush administration to develop a legal channel for US citizens to buy imported drugs.
CVS chairman and chief executive Tom Ryan said that millions of people go outside the US prescription system to Canada or Europe because drugs are cheaper there.
Ryan said: 'While many in our industry believe that importation is a fundamentally flawed concept and oppose it without exception, I have come to a slightly different view.
'Simply put, there are too many patients our pharmacists never see because they cannot afford the drugs we dispense, and others who are unable to pay for a full regimen of medications because it soaks up so much of their disposable income.'
Ryan wants a system that would enable US drug chains to import medicines from abroad in bulk and sell them to Americans who do not have prescription insurance.
He said that the legalisation of bulk importing would be a temporary measure until a 'fair' global pricing system for drugs can be drawn up.
Following CVS's proposal, Walgreens said it would support importation if a safe channel could be established.
CVS announced an increase in first-quarter profits of 25 per cent. The retailer is awaiting clearance from regulators to buy 1,260 Eckerd shops, which would take its store total above 5,000.