A just-released federal report is likely to increase the debate over the importation of prescription drugs. The report, authored by 13 federal officials, said any small savings consumers might realize would be eaten up by the government's regulatory costs of ensuring the imported drugs' safety.

The panel, appointed by the Bush administration, also suggested that legalizing the importation of medicines would probably have an adverse effect on the future development of new drugs for American consumers. That's roughly the same view expressed in previous studies of the subject by the Food and Drug Administration and the Congressional Budget Office.

But the report runs counter to growing political demands from elected officials of both parties and consumer groups, who want Americans to be free to purchase prescription drugs from Canada, where drug prices are regulated by the government, and therefore are lower. Lawmakers in the House and Senate who are pushing for drug import legalization said the report does nothing to change their minds, and that they'll continue to push for legislation to set up commercial imports of prescription drugs.

Lobbying groups like AARP argue that allowing commercial drug imports - and regulating them - would be much safer that having Americans buying imported drugs illegally, which many are now doing. But the report flatly rules that out, saying it's unworkable. Instead, it urged American consumers to purchase generic drugs, which are cheaper than name brands.

"A commercial importation scheme could be feasible with adequate resources and authorities, however, it would be extraordinarily difficult to achieve this result if personal importation were legalized," the report said, adding "safety should not be sacrificed for affordability."