Illinois Plans Online Network to Import Drugs

Wednesday, August 18th 2004, 10:51 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Tuesday that the state will set up an Internet network within the next month to help Illinois residents buy prescription drugs from Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Other states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, already have Web sites to help residents buy drugs from Canada, but Illinois is the first to tap into pharmacies in Europe.

Blagojevich has been a leading figure in the push to allow the purchase of prescriptions drugs from outside the United States. Prescription drug imports are banned by the federal government, but Blagojevich and others believe they should be allowed at a time of skyrocketing prices for medicine in the United States.

``We have taken every possible step we could think of to convince the FDA, and convince the Congress, and anyone and everyone who will listen, that people across Illinois, and across our country, deserve access to safe and lower cost prescription drugs,'' Blagojevich said. ``The federal government has failed to act. So it's time that we do.''

Prescription drugs are often cheaper in Canada and other countries because of government price controls. For instance, a three-month supply of Lipitor, a cholestrol-lowering drug, that costs $214 in the United States can be bought for $144 in Ireland, $158 in the United Kingdom and $162 in Canada, the governor said.

The Food and Drug Administration is against allowing prescription drug imports because it says it cannot guarantee the drugs' safety.

The governor said if all Illinois residents used the program, savings could reach $1.9 billion the first year.

Federal officials earlier rejected an Illinois request to set up a pilot program to buy drugs from Canada. The governor's new plan would be an ``aggressive expansion,'' and the drugs to which it would allow access would be illegal and unregulated by U.S. agencies, said William Hubbard, FDA associate commissioner for policy and planning.

``He should be personally liable if these drugs come into the United States and kill somebody or make somebody sick,'' House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told Chicago's WBBM-AM on Tuesday.

Blagojevich all but challenged the federal government to take legal action. ``I frankly think if we were taken to court a discussion of this in a courtroom might actually be helpful and might actually move this cause forward,'' he said.

Illinois will not import the drugs itself, but it plans to contract with a Canadian company to connect consumers with a network of foreign pharmacies that have been approved by state health inspectors.

Blagojevich said safeguards would be built in, including limiting the imports to only refills of already approved prescriptions. Generic drugs, narcotics or drugs that can spoil during shipping would be excluded from the program.

Eventually, the governor hopes to encourage state employees and retirees to use the system by offering to waive their insurance co-pay, Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said. The state would save up to 50 percent on its drug costs, she said.

``We can't keep asking the 500,000 senior citizens who live in Illinois and lack prescription drug coverage to keep deciding, 'Do I pay for my medicine or do I pay for my groceries?''' Blagojevich said.

Also Tuesday, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer launched a Web site that would allow consumers to shop online for a prescription around the state, giving comparisons by store, address and price.