Maine Indians Could Be Canadian Drug Wholesalers

October 1, 2004 ( - Maine's Penobscot Indian Nation will be a wholesale distributor of reimported lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada under a new plan being advanced by state officials.

Governor John Baldacci announced that he was asking the federal government for permission to import the Canadian drugs – a move that a number of other states are also pursuing (See Vermont Sues FDA Over Drug Importation ), according to news reports. Federal officials have refused such advances, saying there is no way to guarantee the safety and efficacy of imported drugs.

Under the Maine plan, Baldacci said distributor designation for the Penobscots would generate income and jobs for the tribe. The tribe would keep the drugs in a warehouse and sell them to pharmacies in Maine, which would then sell them to consumers at lower prices. The governor gave the Penobscots a $400,000 check to build a warehouse and set up a distribution program

“Our citizens continue to pay more expensive prices for prescription drugs here than what our neighbors to the north pay,” Baldacci told reporters. “This is simply wrong.”

Trish Riley, director of the governor’s office of health policy and finance, said the governor was creating a group of legislators, health insurers, consumers and others to study whether to import the drugs if federal officials tell Maine not to.

William Hubbard, an associate commissioner for policy and planning at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said the FDA had told other states seeking to import Canadian drugs that “we don’t have the authority to grant such a waiver for a city, state or county, or in this case an Indian tribe.”

“We do believe the drugs are illegal and unsafe,” the federal official said, according to news reports. “You’re kind of taking the risk that the foreign pharmacy is a good guy that is giving you the drug, and maybe he is and maybe he isn’t.”

, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin have set up Web sites that link consumers in their states with Canadian pharmacies so consumers can buy drugs on their own (See New Hampshire Posts Canadian Drug Prices ). A few cities, including Springfield, Massachusetts; Montgomery, Alabama; and Burlington, Vermont have started programs that import Canadian drugs directly.