Boston, New Hampshire to Begin Buying Cheaper Drugs From Canada

More municipal officials are considering similar moves as they struggle to rein in local government spending on prescription drugs.

Governors from Minnesota and Illinois as well as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg already have asked the federal government to allow importation of cheaper Canadian drugs into the United States.

“It’s illegal, but it’s about time we forced the issue,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said.

The mayor said Boston will begin buying prescription drugs this summer for about 7,000 city employees and retirees. The program would cut about $1 million each year from the city’s $61 million prescription drug bill, according to city estimates.

New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson said the state will begin buying medicine from Canada for prison inmates. It expects to save money on nine of the ten more commonly prescribed drugs for prisoners. New Hampshire also plans to buy Medicaid recipients’ medication from Canada when the entire price for the drug is lower than the state’s share of the U.S. price. Spokesman Wendell Packard would not give the Online NewsHour a specific date when the program would begin, but said that it would be “as soon as possible.”

The state also plans to launch a Web site within ten days that will provide links to Canadian pharmacies where any New Hampshire resident can get a prescription filled. The pharmacies on the site will be approved as safe by the state.

“It’s time we stood up as a state and did the right thing and allowed citizens to purchase drugs from the most affordable supplier,” Benson said.

Tuesday’s announcements came one day after President Bush signed a Medicare bill that includes a provision forbidding the importation of drugs from Canada unless the Health and Human Services Department certifies their safety, something that it has refused to do.

The Food and Drug Administration, an agency within the Health and Human Services Department, has not cracked down on Springfield or threatened direct action against Boston or New Hampshire, but publicly reiterated its warnings that the practice is unsafe.

“For the mayor of Boston or anyone else to presume that they can make drugs safe simply by saying they are safe is extremely risky behavior,” Peter Pitts, FDA’s associate commissioner for external affairs, told the Associated Press. “The public servants of Boston deserve better than a gimmick.”

The FDA did not directly contact officials in New Hampshire on Tuesday, according to Packard.

Menino, a past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said he wants to meet with FDA head Mark McClellan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson to seek help in making the importation process safe and legal.

Wanda Moebius, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said municipal leaders would do better to tell employees about programs for people who cannot afford prescription drugs.

“People’s safety shouldn’t take a back seat to savings,” she said. “There are probably ways to save money, through competitively bid pharmaceutical benefit managers that don’t open up the risks that importation does.”

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