Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has set up a Web site to put heat on the FDA in hopes the federal agency will buckle under citizen pressure and end its opposition to his plan to import prescription drugs from Canada.
"The FDA, to date, has refused to permit state and local governments to import prescription drugs from Canada," the first-year Democrat says in a statement released Tuesday. "They say we can't do this because it may not be safe. While they use that reason, time after time, the FDA has yet to explain why they permit private health plans to reimburse their members for purchasing prescription drugs from Canada.
"Either it's safe or it's not safe," Blagojevich says. "If it's safe, stop doing the dirty work for the drug manufacturers, and start giving people the chance to save some money. If it's not completely safe just yet, instead of just throwing up your hands and refusing to deal with the issue, let's work on finding ways to make it safe."
Blagojevich proposes importing drugs to save money for the state government as well as Illinois citizens.
The Illinois budget deficit is estimated at $5 billion, according to the Web site of the Illinois CPA Society. Meanwhile, Illinois government spends $1.8 billion a year on prescription drugs for its healthcare programs and $340 million on state employees alone, according to the governor's office.
Last week, a state delegation traveled to Canada to meet with retail and online pharmacy experts, as well as Canadian government officials, to gather information and report back to Blagojevich on the benefits and difficulties of importing drugs from north of the border.
The governor encourages citizens to log onto the www.affordabledrugs.il.gov Web site and fill out an online petition that reads: "It is time for our leaders in Washington, D.C., to help ease the burden on American taxpayers and consumers by giving us access to the drugs we need at the lower prices available in Canada." The Web site says drug prices in Canada are 30% to 50% lower than in the United States.
The FDA, in response to a request for comment, produced a Sept. 23 letter from FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, M.D., to Blagojevich in which McClellan states: "Opening our borders to unregulated medicines is a risk we believe is not worth taking for the American consumer."
The recent interest in importation, McClellan said, "presents real public health and safety concerns, because it increases the risks associated with counterfeiting, diversion, mislabling and improper dispensing and creates a wide channel for drugs to be transshipped into the United States without adequate regulatory oversight."
"While many insurance plans reimburse consumers for drugs purchased while traveling abroad, this is very different from programs that actively encourage consumers to purchase unapproved, potentially unsafe drugs," the commissioner said.