Illinois Urges FDA to Let States Buy Drugs From Canada

Illinois said earlier this week that it was looking into buying less costly Canadian prescriptions for state employees and retirees. Maine and Vermont have also recently expressed interest in drug reimportation.

“If the federal government is not able to correct serious drug price disparities between the U.S. and rest of the world, then it should give states the flexibility to pursue better prices on their own,” said Blagojevich at a press conference in Chicago. “However, the FDA to date has refused to permit state and local governments to import prescription drugs from Canada.”

Federal law currently bars consumers from bringing foreign drugs into the United States.

Blagojevich also wrote FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, asking him to take another look at the matter.

“I know you have expressed concerns about the idea of state and local governments importing prescription drugs from Canada. … I respectfully request that you reconsider the FDA’s policy,” Blagojevich wrote.

Illinois reports that it spent $340 million in 2002 on prescription drugs for its 230,000 employees and retirees, and a total of $1.8 billion on prescription drugs for all the state’s health programs combined.

FDA Associate Commissioner William Hubbard told the Online NewsHour Thursday that there is no way to guarantee the safety of drugs reimported from Canada and that patients in the United States may have trouble distinguishing between legitimate pharmacists and drug counterfeiters when they make purchases over the internet from pharmacies abroad.

Canadian pharmacists who sell through the mail or the Internet report that 1 million U.S. residents, mostly seniors, buy drugs from Canada that would otherwise be unaffordable.

Pharmaceutical companies have been working to block that flow of drugs back over the U.S.-Canadian border. British-based GlaxoSmithKline was the first of several pharmaceutical companies this year that said they would work to crack down on the reimportation of their drugs.

GlaxoSmithKline’s move prompted Maine and Vermont to pass resolutions backing Canadian imports, according to Richard Cauchi, health expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“There is a spectrum of activity going on,” Cauchi, whose group represents U.S. state legislatures, told Reuters.

Hubbard said that after the FDA talks to local governments about the agency’s safety concerns they do not proceed with their moves to reimport drugs.

Hubbard told Reuters the mayor of Springfield, Mass., a city that has already begun buying drugs from Canada, did not consult the agency before developing his import program, which covers drugs from a Canadian company.

Health insurance premiums across the United States rose 13.9 percent this year, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, fueled in part by hikes in prices for prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, members of Congress have said they plan to continue to push to make drug reimportation legal.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Tuesday he would support taking the issue out of the broader Medicare debate and passing a “reimportation” bill by itself, Reuters reported.

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