A month after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich backed off from openly disobeying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ban on buying Canadian drugs, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is taking up the cause, saying his state will help Minnesotans buy drugs from Canada.
The Minnesota Republican says he will set up a Web site to purchase the Canadian drugs and that the state will "pursue purchase" of foreign-made drugs, according to a release from his office on Thursday.
"In the near term, this will allow us to get a better deal for Minnesotans. In the long run, we want to change the global economics of this industry," Pawlenty says.
Huge state budget deficits this year and already-brisk sales of drugs from Canada, where they are 30% to 80% cheaper than in the United States, are making challenges of FDA policy a potent political issue for a few governors and mayors.
The FDA bars businesses from reselling drugs that were manufactured in the United States and exported to other countries and prohibits consumers from bringing nonapproved drugs into the country.
The agency has not been rigorously enforcing that prohibition, but FDA officials lately have been speaking out against drug imports, arguing that some of the drugs could be dangerous fakes.
"Opening our borders to unregulated medicines is a risk we believe is not worth taking for the American consumer," FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, M.D., wrote in a Sept. 23 letter to Blagojevich.
In September, Blagojevich, a Democrat, stepped back from a policy announced a few days before that would allow state workers to buy drugs from Canada. Since then, the Illinois governor has been stepping up efforts to lobby the FDA to remove its ban.
The Minnesota governor also says he will "aggressively pursue federal action to eliminate barriers to widespread use of imported, safe prescription drugs."
Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa has said he would consider a proposal to reimport lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada.
Moreover, Mayor Michael Albano of Springfield, Mass., has been openly challenging FDA policy, starting a program this summer to reimport prescription drugs from Canada for 20,000 city employees, retirees and dependents.
The city of Pittsfield, Mass., is also looking into the possibility of allowing city workers to buy prescriptions from Canada.