MN Governor Looks Up For Lower Drug Prices

September 25, 2003 ( - Minnesota's Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty has become the latest state official to explore the possibility of purchasing prescription drugs from Canada in a cost-cutting measure.

Pawlenty charged Human Services Commissioner Kevin Goodno with reporting back in 30 days on the feasibility of setting up a system for buying cheaper drugs from Canada, where prices tend to be about half of those in the United States. The report would cover obtaining Canadian drugs for 50,000 state employees and is expected to project savings of $20 million a year for the state, according to a St. Paul Pioneer Press report.

With the announcement, Minnesota joins its midwestern neighbors – Iowa and Illinois – as the first states to consider the Canadian prescription drug alternative (See Iowa Looks To Hop on Canadian Drug Bandwagon , Illinois Gov Pushes For Canadian Drug Purchases ). However, unlike the other two states, which are looking at the Canadian alternative only for state employees, Minnesota is also considering opening the program up to the 600,000 Minnesotans with state-provided health insurance and even exploring the possibility of including all Minnesota’s residents.

Pawlenty acknowledged that his request is sure to “ruffle some feathers.” “The Bush administration will be concerned, the pharmaceutical companies will be mad. The (Food and Drug Administration) FDA may be concerned or mad,” said Pawlenty, who is the Minnesota co-chair of President Bush’s re-election campaign.

At the same time, Pawlenty is looking to cover the state from any possible legal consequences, asking Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch to identify state and federal laws that might stop a drug importation plan. Leslie Sandberg, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General, told the Pioneer Press the report should be issued early next week.

Legal Queries

This may be a preemptive strike in response to the spat of legal and regulatory demands the FDA has placed on other entities involved in the purchase of Canadian prescription drugs. The FDA contends the storefronts used to supply American with Canadian prescription drugs violate federal law barring drug importation and pose risks that drugs shipped will be expired, counterfeit or mishandled.

As evidence, the FDA points to a sting operation conducted last month in which the agency allegedly caught the supplier of Springfield, Massachusetts’ 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 ).

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 ).