Big Apple Mayor Wants to Harvest Drugs From Canada

October 24, 2003 ( - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has joined the rising chorus of public figures to back the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada.

The Gotham City mayor joins officials in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and other states who are mulling paying for cheaper prescription drugs from Canada for state workers or for state-run Medicaid health programs (See Iowa Looks To Hop on Canadian Drug Bandwagon, Illinois Gov Pushes For Canadian Drug Purchases , MN Governor Brings Canadian Drug Buying Plan to the Streets ). “It is a great idea to use our combined economic power to [buy drugs from Canada] … It is on our to-do list,” he said at a press briefing in the Big Apple, according to a Reuters report.

Should the plan come to fruition it would have a significant impact on the city’s Medicaid costs. Approximately 2 million of New York City’s 8.4 million residents are enrolled the federal-state health program and New York State Senate officials estimate the program’s cost has jumped by $17 billion since 1995, due in large part to the rising price of prescription drugs.

Springfield Plan

Further evidence about the potential cost impact of a Canadian drug-buying program is provided by Springfield, Massachusetts Mayor Michael Albano. Under the Springfield plan, the city entices its employees and retirees to take advantage of the voluntary system by waiving copayments on prescription drugs – currently ranging from $6 to $20 per prescription – for participants who place their orders though CanaRx Services Inc., an Ontario company that mails three-month supplies of prescribed drugs from Canadian pharmacies. Overall, this appears to be a small price to pay for the city that cites savings on drugs ranging from 20% to 80% and ultimately could put between $4 million and $9 million in savings back into city coffers (See Springfield, Mass. Pushes Canadian Drug Order Program ).

However, by proposing a prescription drug-buying program, Bloomberg would join the growing list of US cities and states that are defying warnings from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that safety of imported drugs cannot be guaranteed. As evidence, the FDA points to a sting operation conducted last month in which the agency allegedly caught the supplier of Springfield’s Canadian drug shipments red handed in the improper handling of insulin, saying when the insulin arrived via regular mail, it was at room temperature, instead of chilled and delivered via overnight mail as it is supposed to be handled to ensure its effectiveness (SeeFDA Stings Springfield’s Canadian Drug Supplier).

Additionally, last month the Justice Department asked an Oklahoma judge to issue an immediate injunction against Rx Depot, a chain of 85 storefront businesses that helps process drug orders in Canada. Justice lawyers, working with the FDA, argue the company’s role as a middleman makes it a de facto pharmacy that endangers patients by selling “unapproved” products (See FDA Tells Canadian Drug Store Fronts To Cease and Desist ).

FDA Non Action

Cities and states, though, can breathe a sigh of relief as the FDA has softened its hard-line stance somewhat after William Hubbard, associate commissioner for policy and planning at the FDA, told the Boston Globe that the agency will not sue cities and states that set up plans to bring in the unapproved drugs.

This does not mean that all involved parties get off scott-free. Hubbard continued by saying the FDA would continue its court battles against “businesses that sell commercial quantities of drugs” from overseas, such as the Rx Depot.