Illinois Gov Pushes For Canadian Drug Purchases

September 15, 2003 ( - Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has directed the Illinois Special Advocate to draft a plan for buying prescription medications from Canada for as many as 240,000 state employees and retirees.

Blagojevich cited increasing prescription drug prices as the reason to look north. “The status quo on prescription drugs is intolerable and unacceptable,” Blagojevich told the Washington Post. This year, the state is spending $340 million on prescriptions for its workforce, a 15% increase from last year. “I am optimistic we will be able to save literally millions of dollars for the taxpayers and set a precedent other states will follow.”

Should the move be ratified, Illinois would become the first state to pursue Canadian drug purchases for its workers but would be following in the footsteps of some other public governments, such as Springfield, Massachusetts that recently enacted a similar plan.

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 that 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 ).

Critical Eye

However, the plan does have its critics, most notably, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which contends the stores violate federal law barring drug importation and pose risks that drugs shipped will be expired, counterfeit or mishandled.

As evidence, t he 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 (See FDA Stings Springfield’s Canadian Drug Supplier ).

That sting operation represented the latest move in the chess-match battle between the city of Springfield and the FDA. In August, the FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan urged the city to reconsider its prescription drug plan, fearing that by purchasing from Canada, participants were putting their lives at risk (See FDA Calls Out Springfield Canada Drug Buying Plan ).

Additionally, late last week 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 ).